Send anyone this way to read along, but for permission to reprint, please contact Gail.
© Gail Underwood Parker

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holidays 101: #2: Holiday Card Idea

It has been years and years since I got my act together enough to actually send out Christmas cards.  AS much as people complain about holiday cards, I discovered that if you don't send them you do lose track of people in your life. This year I am determined to reverse that trend if I can.  I am GOing to send out cards this year.  Not a lot, but some.  Not with fancy letters, but at least with a sentence above my signature. Try using Google or Facebook or to track down someone you have lost track of and using the excuse of a holiday to reconnect.

More important I am sending out a bunch of cards to people I don't even know.  Consider this possibility for you and your kids to do with some of those leftover Christmas and Hannukah cards buried in boxes somewhere amid the holiday trappings.  I am not in favor of war.  However I separate the policy of wars from the men and women who sacrifice so much to make a positive difference in the world.  The Red Cross sponsors a special program that will accept and distribute cards with the blessing and cooperation of the mail service, the military, and even hospitals. Make it a new tradition to use some of your card sending as a blessing to people you don't even know. Send each one addressed to:

Holiday Mail For Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

PLEASE note:  Cards sent to "A Recovering American Soldier" or "Any soldier" etc. absolutely will not and CANNOT be delivered [example: those recommended for the Walter Reed Army Med. Ctr that seems to pop up online each year] "Federal law and postal regulations will not allow mail addressed to “Recovering Soldiers” or “Any Service member” to be delivered." 

Make a real difference for people who gave up a lot in the hopes of making a real difference for others.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holidays 101: #1 - Fair

Today one of several books I am recommending this year that are good for a wide range of ages:

It's Not Fair! 
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
pub: HarperCollins   copyright 2008

Every parent sooner or later hears the common wail: " It's not fa--a--i---rrrr" echoing through the room from an aggrieved child.  Even if you have only one child, you cannot escape from that eventual complaint.  This simple picture book, with short sentences takes a light-hearted look at the unfairness which surrounds us all.  Even the paper on the inside of the covers is used as a source for amusement for the parents reading the book. Book is for anyone over the age of 3.

There are other "It's Not Fair" books [titles cannot be copyrighted] but this is my favorite. Not because it offers solutions.  Because it shows that everyone and everything can sometimes feel that something is not fair.  That feeling it isn't fair is normal.  I am a great believer in teaching children that feelings are normal. That they come and go. That EVERYone has them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday Announcement ! !

Hey, I know it is Monday so it should be School Bell. BUT, for the next few weeks, I am going to more or less ignore my usual schedule.  Instead I will be doing a different holiday tradition or gift idea each day.  Sundays will stay Caring Heart Meditations but the others will be more flexible.  Sometimes I may gear the idea or gift for the old day theme but not always.

Get ready for a month of ideas for celebrating Hannukah, Kwanza, Christmas, New Year's, birthdays and anniversaries. Something hopefully for everyone and every age.  We'll see how it works.... AND, if you have something that you would like me to recommend email me and let me know!  Remember.... I get no anything from anyone for my recommendations.  They are ALL things I have done or do myself unless I tell you otherwise.

I am tentatively calling it Holidays 101 and I will number the days. Let me know what you think of it as we go along. I know everyone is busy this time of year and can easily be overwhelmed so I will try to keep most posts short and to the point.  If you have an age group or situation you want me to be sure to cover, email me and I will try to find a solution or an idea at least and post it before the end of December.

Soo... brace yourself, get ready and get set... tomorrow we start!

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Caring Heart: A Manicure

The chance to spend special time with a child can make a memory that lasts for years.

A Manicure

She got a manicure today.  A real one.  We went to the beauty shop and got the whole works.  I wanted her to experience the fun of having pretty fingernails in the hope that it may help her fight the urge to bite them again.  She has worked so hard to grow them out.  So many times she would be almost there.  Then one morning I would notice her curling her fingers inside her palm and, sure enough, when I could catch sight they were bitten down to the quick again.  I know the anxiety and emotional turmoil that keeps her biting them long after her peers have outgrown the habit.  It is such a visible sign of the hurt little child inside. So let this afternoon together lift her spirits.  Let these brightly colored, shaped nails give her a boost of self-confidence.  If she slips, we have still had the time together.  She has still had a taste of what can be.  We will still have had an afternoon of sharing and celebration.  Let these memories stick with her and begin to replace some of the older, tougher memories. 

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker   Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Quick Takes: 365 Thank Yous

Today's quick take is an interesting book for you to consider checking out at your local library, inter-library loan, or bookstore.

Author John Kralik was having a really tough stretch and was buoyed in a dark moment by an unexpected thank you note he received.  As an experiment he challenged himself to sort of return the favor... every day for a year.  He set out to write a thank you note each day and every day for one full year.  The book 365 Thank Yous chronicles both the experiment and how the process changed him along the way.

I've toyed with trying the experiment with my kiddos next year.  Anybody else interested? Maybe we could collaborate? Let me know!

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Black Friday

Two Black Friday grins for you today:

From ------

For those of you among us who love sarcasm I offer one of my all time favorite sites:  a business that mocks all those motivational posters often seen on corporate walls. Their annual calendar one of my regular purchases for certain sarcastic friends.  For Black Friday they offer this painfully accurate view----
     "Black Friday: Separating Americans from money they don't really have since 1996."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Soapbox: A Thought

I don't remember where I first read this or who said this, but I will let it stand on its own for my soapbox today.

"Sometimes I would like to ask God why he allows poverty, suffering and injustice when he can do something about it."

"Why don't you ask Him"

"Because I'm afraid he would ask me the same question.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Gratitude Journals

Oprah Winfrey was a vocal advocate for gratitude journals.. a way of tracking all of our blessings and focusing on them, being mindful each day of the good in the day.

Quite possibly no one needs the habit more than children in care.  They often have had so much loss in their lives, so much pain. They often think they deserve what has happened.  I once told one of my gremlins that "everybody deserves a happy childhood," only to be contradicted very quickly and firmly with a "Not me.  Other kids, but not me."

Learning to see the positive in their lives, to find things to celebrate, is a skill often harder to acquire than anything they study in school and a skill far more needed in life.

Try modeling it this Thanksgiving.  Take a small blank book and a pen and act as secretary for them.  Whether around the table or on a bed, or in a comfy chair...generate a list together of things to be thankful for... people, moments, events, small steps, big steps. Put the year at the top of the list.  Then over the next month talk about that list.  Bring it out now and then. Add to it when something good happens, be it a good day, or a good hour.  Write it down to both make it real and to preserve it. On New Year's Eve turn to a new page and write 2012 at the top. Continue your list and touching base with each other.

With luck and determination, by next Thanksgiving your child will be far more able to participate.  They will be beginning to absorb the idea of taking moments to celebrate success, the ability to recognize good things when they come.

Little by little, day by day they will learn a more positive view of life.  A more balanced view of their own lives.  They may never be "glass half full" people. But hopefully you can show them and lead them to see that their glasses are not empty, that their glasses can become fuller over time.

Gratitude can be a candle of light against the darkness of discouragement, despair, and isolation. Use this Thanksgiving to help them light the flame.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

School Bell: Currency of Thanks

I know that by now some of you may be getting tired of the giving Thanks themes, but I want to take a post to consider the value of thanks on all sides of the school equation.

1- Thanks to a teacher from a parent... I taught school for over 30 years and only three times got written thank you notes from a parent at Thanksgiving or unexpected times.  Believe me, I remember those parents... to this day.  I am not complaining... I got many thank yous at the close of the school year each year, and many spoken thank yous. What I want you to know is the power of a written thank you when a teacher is not expecting it. The way that it boosts your spirits, revitalizes your reserves, and carries you for days and days.

2- Thanks from a teacher to a parent... I have raised nine children completely and others for stretches of time. Some have been great students, some special needs, some challenging, some hard-working and some lazy. Those of you reading this who may be teachers yourselves... How often have you stopped to jot a quick thank you note to a parent who you see working to support their child's efforts in school?  Parents also need to know their efforts are noticed and appreciated.

3- Thanks to your student child... Try writing a quick note to your child after a decent study session for a test. After they struggle and finish completing a late assignment, or a tough project, or making up back work. Maybe even a short thank you note the day they sit down to do their homework without arguing. Kids need to know we notice.  Praise for good stuff is FAR more effective than slams when they make mistakes. By giving that praise in writing, it sticks around both in their minds and on paper longer. 

Any kind of thank you is better than none.  But a thank you someone takes the time to WRITE is particularly powerful because it is so uncommon these days. It doesn't need to be fancy. It doesn't need to be on cute stationery.  Although I personally prefer signed ones, it doesn't even need to be signed.  It just needs to be personal, honest, and specific.  "Steve, Thank you for studying so hard for your history test last night. I am proud of you!, Mom," or "Mr Thompson, Thank you for such a great study guide for the history test, it made helping Steve study much easier!, Mrs. Smith," or "Mrs Smith, Thank you for all your hard work helping Steve study for his test!, Mr. Thompson."   Give it a shot.  It can't hurt.

P.S. I wouldn't hurt for your child to send one to you or the teacher either!

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Caring Heart: A Thank You

"Thank You" is one of the first social phrases we teach our children. As the Thanksgiving Day chaos and joy approach it seems logical to take a look at a meditation about this "simple" act that can mean so very much.

A Thank You

He said "Thank you" tonight.  Not a knee jerk response.  A real thank you. Not after a ride to school when he overslept.  Or a ride to a friend's house. Not after I gave him something.  Just "Thank You." He had gone down to bed after a pretty typical day.  Not a perfect day.  Not even an argument-free day.  Just a day. He had brushed his teeth [woo hoo!] and taken a shower and gone to bed. I hadn't even tucked him in or anything.  Then he came back to the living room, gave me a hug and said those two precious words. "Thank you."  Caught by surprise I said, "For what?"  His response was carefully casual and tossed over his shoulder as he headed back to bed.  "Nothing. Just Thank you...g'nite."  Those two words will hold me through a lot of tough days.  Thank you.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker   Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Quick Takes: Creative Rewards #56-60

Today's quick take is five more creative rewards for your kids. Except for last month [when I forgot] this is a once a month feature to come up with alternatives to stickers and food and purchases for treats and rewards.  Examples are for a mix of ages and genders and locations. Adjust for your own kids and your own region. [Creative Rewards #1-55 can be found if you search "Rewards."]

56. Have an ice cream party
57. Play frisbee
58. Backwards dinner
59. Start a collection
60. Help rake leaves AND jump in the pile
[region dependent]
or wash a car in bathing suits

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Thanksgiving Trees!

Great minds think alike.... either that or the TODAY show has been reading my blog!  I was excited to see a suggestion this week from their decorating correspondent that was like my last year's post describing our Thanksgiving Tree.  Their expert used colored paper cut outs of fall leaves and tied then to an arrangement of small bare branches in a vase for a table centerpiece, but it was the same idea.  So I decided to repeat my post from last year. Is YOUR Thanksgiving Tree up yet?  It's not too late!!

Here is my original post:
Tis the season of Thanksgiving. Christmas has a Christmas tree.  But not everyone celebrates Christmas.  Almost everyone can celebrate the act of being thankful. Some can celebrate a bountiful feast as pictured below. Some are thankful for the very ordinary as so often shown by people with very little. Gratitude is a trait that is crucial to resilience and is so important to teach our children. So... how about a Thanksgiving tree? Based on the idea of a kindness tree I saw once I am trying a Thanksgiving tree this year. IT is a work in progress and I am asking the children [AND guests or visitors] to add to it each day.  I started by cut up index cards,  hole punching them and tying ribbon through for ties.  I gave each child 5 card tags to start with and piled markers, crayons, and old magazines on the table in front of them. Each child was to write down, draw, or cut and paste something they are thankful for this year.  Big things, little things. People, events, anything that has brought them joy.  When everyone was done we went outside and tied them to the branches of a tree. [Ours is actually a bush!]  Send me photos of yours?  [Nov 19, 2010]

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Parenting Tips: Thank You notes

Our Thursday tips this month are focusing on helping kids develop a sense of gratitude and learning to thank people.  Today... Thank you notes. 

Thank you notes are not every child's favorite activity.  But they are a crucial skill to learn and, like most skills, starting early helps. In this era of emails and phone calls a written thank you note will be truly treasured by its recipient, and the lesson important for your kids.

For youngest or most reluctant: 
Take a picture of them with a thank you sign. Even write "Thank you" in chalk on a sidewalk and sit them next to it!  Use that to make a thank you card [either by computer or the old fashioned copy, cut and paste system].  On the inside of the card all they have to do is draw a happy face and either print their name or initial [if able] or sign it with an inked thumbprint.  [For extra fun have the kids come up with how to show the words "Thank you."  One of the past favorites with my crew... the words spelled out in Skittle candies on the kitchen table while the child sat and waved next to it.]

As they get older you can up the ante step by step... 

1. Require the child to write "Thank you for the ___(name the gift)______." above their signature.

2. Require the child to write "Dear _(name of giver)_, "Thank you for the ___(name the gift)______."

3. Require the child to add one sentence about the gift before signing. ["I really like the color.""I can use it at school." etc.]

Option: If you have group gifts or several kids, take a group picture for the outside and each child can add a sentence or note or happy face, depending on age.

Also: In the beginning they will be more successful if you write the address etc, but let them have the fun of adding the stamp and taking it to the mailbox or post office.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Soapbox: Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is just over a week away and I have to admit that for all more complaints and frustrations I have an abundance of things for which to be thankful.

I have never lived my life trying to achieve wealth or power [and its a good thing, because I don't have either!]. I spend far more time worrying about money than I would like. I spend far more time wishing for this or that than I want to admit.  No, I am not rich.  No, I am not ever comfortable. I have debt.  I struggle with bills. I have absolutely no savings, which at 63 is very scary. BUT, I have a home, I don't worry about putting food on my table or coats on the kids in winter.  I have computer and internet access. I have a basic level of living that thousands and thousands and thousands in this country do not have, nor will ever have.  So I DO have wealth. Without even looking at the cliche of starving child in country x or y I have wealth. In a country where so many homes are in foreclosure or long gone or never had, I have a home. It is large enough that we could fit more people in it if needed or wanted. Would I like a hot tub? Sure. But I certainly don't "need" one.  Same for most everything that I want. 

My birthday always comes right around Thanksgiving.  I feel awkward when people ask what I "want" for my birthday.  As a single person whose parents have died there is no longer anyone who can or should buy me a "big" present.  No "Every kiss begins with Kay" surprise, no new car with a bow outside to shock me. No cruise tickets or vacation packages. Birthdays are mostly cards and simple gifts whose most important message is that I am loved. And, truly, that is what I want most... to be near [in spirit if not in person] to those I love and who love me.  In that I am as rich as anyone on the Forbes 500!  

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Recreating a Past

Kids who have been taken from their original family from abuse and/or neglect often lack the beginning chapters of their life story.  They are likely to lack the baby pictures, first missing tooth photos, and more.  In a perfect world, parents would be required by the courts to answer basic developmental history questions about their children so that crucial health and developmental information would be available. But no such practice exists. But, if you have a child who is noticing their absence of early photos in your home, or in a scrapbook, or for a school project.... how about putting them in charge???

Give them the chance to rewrite their beginning chapters.  Dig out a child development book and tell them about when a baby sits up, gets their first tooth, starts to crawl, takes its first steps.  Help the child create a story about their beginnings.  As long as you don't use it for diagnostic purposes, why not?

Go another step and help the child [or adolescent] search online pictures and pick out a baby picture, a toddler taking first steps or playing with stacking toys, or grinning a gap-toothed smile. Print them, cut them out. May a fictional baby book for your child. Let them choose... where they a bald baby or a baby with a monk fringe of hair, or blond or dark hair. Let them choose.  There is so little in their life so far they have had choice in.... why not let them choose to recreate a beginning?

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Monday, November 14, 2011

School Bell: Secretary Hat Strategy

When I was still teaching full time I often had students filled with great ideas who were unwilling to take the time or make the effort to write them out.  That is not a criticism!  It was most often NOT a reflection of laziness, but of frustration with the physical challenges of writing or the processing difficulties of moving from thought to paper. Students with challenges like this find it simpler, less frustrating, less anxiety producing, etc. to write the shortest possible answer they can possible do.

If this sounds at all like your child, consider some options that might help him or her show the richness of thinking that may be hidden by the difficulty of putting it to paper.  The most common school solution is to offer a keyboard option... using a computer. This can be very helpful and sometimes even motivating.  But for some student keyboarding skill and dexterity can be almost as challenging as handwriting. What to do?  Think of all the bosses of bygone days who had poor handwriting.  "Hire" a "secretary" for your child!

1. Do a trial first.  Some night or weekend when there is more time and inclination  take a question from a homework assignment or a past test.  Ask your child the question out loud and have them answer it just out loud to you.  If you find they know a lot more than what they wrote, you are on to something... go to the teacher.

2. Talk to your child's teacher.  Show/Tell the teacher the difference between what you child typically produces for an answer and what they produce when freed of the responsibility of physically writing their answer. Ask if they are willing to accept your child "dictating" answers to questions. Years ago, I sometimes used cassette tapes for families who were willing and would then listen to the tapes to "correct" their "papers."

3. Try it for a test period, assuming the teacher is willing. Find out whether you see a significant difference in the information the child can demonstrate.

4. Meet again to plan. Tweak as needed or to use as a basic for discussing reasonable accommodations to enable more accurate assessment of your child's learning.

Make it clear and make it fun!! When my kids were younger I bought a plain bill-front cap from a craft store. Using markers and paint my child and I created a "Secretary" Hat. We even attached a couple of pencils and erasers to it for fun.

Whenever I was wearing the Secretary Hat, the child knew that I would write down exactly what he/she said with no changes or corrections or hints.  If he wanted help or advice in revising etc. I took the hat off.

In time the hat was used sometimes by sitters, or by others helping at homework time. I later learned that one of the aides at school had made a similar hat for herself after hearing about it.

---And, by the way... another advantage is that the "boss" can pace or fidget all s/he wants while dictating.

Try it!

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Caring Heart: Meds or No Meds

Trying to do the best for children is always a challenge and when they are not your own it is even harder to make the right choice.  But sometimes it gets even more complicated when others who don't even live with the child set limits or push their agendas to one extreme or another. This is just one example of the balancing acts so common.

Meds or No Meds

I am so confused.  How do I decide what is the best for this child?  I have seen children who do so much better when they take medicine.  They are not zombies, rather they seem freed to be a lighter, happier self.  They are more able to take control of their lives rather than be at the mercy of their bodies' chemistry.  And yet, many people disagree and warn of known and unknown dangers from such medicines.  I have seen children suffer the side effects of weight gain, muted personality, sleepiness, and more.  Who am I to believe?  Who am I to trust? How do I balance the negative side effects and the positive results? How can this child trust me to make the right decision when I am so unsure?  How do I advocate for what is best when I don't know?  Guide me, please.  Make me unafraid to explore the many options, to change my mind if my choice doesn't feel right, and to hold firm to what seems right for this child at this time.  Guide me.  Bolster me.  Help me do what is best for this child. Lead us down the right path. Please.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker   Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Quick Takes: Fall Flu

Sorry folks for being absent most of this week.  The fall flu has hit the house and eventually managed to get me down for the count too.  Getting better....haven't gotten dressed yet or eaten a real meal yet, but hope to be back on my game tomorrow.  Thanks for hanging in there with me. Hope all of you are doing a better job of avoiding the germs and microbes!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Soapbox: Wanted...Home Ec

When I was in school [many, many years ago] there was a strict division of phys ed, but also in high school when the girls went to home economics and the boys took woodshop. By the time I became a teacher myself, it was clear that gender equity was needed.  Girls wanted in to wood shop and automotives.  Boys were less interested in home ec.  Within 10 years budget cuts finally took their toll and home economics was completed eliminated.  Not shop. Home Ec.  Like many communities it has been decades now since the last cooking, sewing, child development, or home budgeting class was held for regular education and college prep kids.

WHY?  It seem to me that home economics is the one skill that EVERYONE needs. The ability to run a household and to have the skills to live independently should be the baseline not the frill.  Perhaps if more of today's citizens had learned checkbook balancing, budgeting, and the economics of running and maintaining a home, some of our current fiscal problems might have been avoided.

Now, I'm not recommending a return to gender split classes! Neither am I recommending that all 7th grade girls sew vests and aprons and skirts, as I had to do.  But since pretty much speaking all kids will eventually live in a home, perhaps some education on how to do that would be a good idea! How to mend a tear, how to prepare food safely, the basics of child development and budgeting. Why is it only available to the severely handicapped students, occasionally the voc ed students?  Bring back home economics. It is NOT a frill!

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Monday, November 7, 2011

School Bell: Confronting a Problem

Most of the time when you ask your children how school went the answer will be "Fine" or "Ok" or something like that.  Most of the time it will even be true.  But what about the times they grumble an "I don't want to talk about it" or burst into tears?  Sooner or later you may be in that situation.

When things don't go swimmingly at school your child [and your child's teacher] need to know that you are willing to tackle the tough stuff. It may be a playground bully today.  Or a bus driver whose scolding scared your child.  Hopefully you and your child have already talked about how to handle school challenges, and the steps of involving people such as a trusted teacher. Hopefully your child already knows that you are always willing to hear what they have to say and to talk about problems they are having.

Next step is that if your child has shared a concern with you, chances are you should bring it up to the teacher!  Even if you think the child may be overreacting or misunderstanding, it is often helpful to have the teacher know what the child's perceptions are as most likely it is affecting their attitudes and performance and comfort at school.... always a concern of teachers. Start doing it early and when your child is older the ground work will be laid.  Don't wait until your child is in a dilemma over a cheating request, or seeing a child threatening another, or overhearing something that hints at a dangerous situation.
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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Caring Heart: Translation Needed

As hard as it is for me to believe it is nearly 45 years since  my first foster child arrived.  In the years then and since I have heard many foster parents complain about overly optimistic descriptions of children waiting for placements.  Those of you who share that frustration may relate to this meditation.

Translation Needed
"Bright and engaging"  Where did the social worker get that idea?  Probably the same place that described my swweet little girl with severe mental retardation as "a little behind academically."  I swear there must be a spcial thesaurus for missrepresenting these kiddos.  "Eager and energetic" often means will ask thirty questions a minute, won't sit still for more than fifteen seconds, and rarely sleeps. "Would benefit from being an only child" sometimes means aggressive or predatory in ways that may place other children at risk. "Will need time to adapt to new home" should warn you that this child may reject affection, have difficulty learning to care about you and isn't used to normal expectations within a family. "Does well with structure" warns you to get out your best behavioral plans and checklists, your reward tokens and consequence systems, because you are going to need them all. I would probably still have taken each and everyone of those children in, but I would have been more prepared and more able to help them if I had not been misled.  If I had not wasted time while figuring out the real translation of the optimistic-speak.  Help the people who bear this responsibility to trust us and gift us with their best, most honest appraisal when they bring us each lonely hurting child.  We are all just trying to help them find their way to peace.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker   Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Quick Takes: Favorite Quotes #7-10

More favorite quotes--Today quotes on staying out of trouble or getting out of trouble.

For other favorite quotes search "quotes."

Attributions are often debatable, just as with legends and proverbs.  If I have a name I will offer it, but with no guarantees. [Even #7 which I should be able to guarantee, may have come from his mother or father.]

#7-- "If you can't be smart, don't be stupid!"
              James H. Underwood, minister [and my dad]

#8-- "The way out of trouble is never as easy as the way in."
             Edgar Watson Howe, writer & editor

#9-- "The first rule of holes; when you're in one... stop digging!"
             Molly Ivins, writer

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Halloween Displays

I know the Christmas selections are already crowding into the Thanksgiving displays. But... Halloween was really only 5 days ago and I couldn't resist sharing one of the many you tube clips that have been entertaining my kiddos this week.

Now they want ME to do one next year....NOT going to happen!!

My reactions tend to follow a pattern when I see amazing displays like this...
     2nd... Someone has waaaaay too much flexible time!
     3rd....How many gallons of heating fuel for low income people could be bought with that electric bill?
     4th....I'm glad I don't live next door.

 Click here to see one of many Halloween Light Displays set to music.

Or just search "Halloween light displays," sit back and waste some/enjoy some down time.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Parenting Tips: Thanks Giving #1--- Modeling Gratitude

Happy November!  All kids have things for which to be grateful.  Sometimes they delight us with their enthusiasm. [I still remember the Christmas my four-year-old jumped up and down, gleefully saying, "Just what I ALways wanted!"...after every single present!!]

Gratitude doesn't always come as easily.  This November month I have decided to spend each Thursday Parenting Tip on ways to help children develop and maintain gratitude. Today... providing role models of noticing and expressing gratitude.

Our children need to see us celebrate goodness, appreciate kindnesses, and model those behaviors in front of them. Started early, children can develop the habit of noticing goodness, voicing appreciation, and celebrating good fortune.  As teenagers, it is easy to fall into the "my-life-stinks"-syndrome.  With bullying ever present adolescents can quickly develop an awareness of all the negative around them and almost blind to the positives.  They need our help to stay aware and grateful for the goodness around them. They need to hear us say how much we are warmed and comforted and uplifted by people who say "Thank You," who express appreciation, who show gratitude.

Let's try an experiment.  From now until next Thursday's post, let's everyone who reads this make a conscious effort to surround our children with gratitude in all forms, non-verbal, physical, written, pictures, hugs, smiles, words, everything we can. Gratitude that they see us express, see us experience, that they receive, etc. Every way that we can for one week.  Then next week we'll move them forward a different way. Working our way through the month of Thanksgiving we can try teaching the ACT of thanks-giving and the blessings of thanks giving rather than the history of Thanksgiving. By Thanksgiving Thursday let's see what wonderful changes and new understandings we may help create. Join me?

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Soapbox: Election Signs

My soapbox today is a congratulatory tip of the hat to my local candidates rather than a rant.  Our small town is often populated [during election seasons] by what seems like more political signs than people!  They crowd together on every corner of every intersection.  Years ago there would be open spaces on straightaways, between corner clusters.  But more recently even the straight stretches become filled with a nonstop border of competing signs.  Last year I counted over 65 signs in less than a quarter mile stretch, divided between only three candidates! 

Anyway, this year the local candidates made a pact and announced in the local paper, that they had agreed to forgo posting campaign signs completely.  Instead they each did lengthy interviews with the newspaper about their positions and doubled the number of community candidate forum nights. The decision helped the town enjoy the fall foliage without signs spoiling it. The decision saved paper. Without the need to pay for all those signs and posters, less campaign money needed to be raised that is better used elsewhere. Finally, the alternative chosen provided better ways for townspeople to learn what the candidates stood for, rather than just the name recognition battle of signage.  Hooray!  Everybody wins!!

Now if we could just get state and national candidates to learn from that!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Focus on Fostering.... Holiday backsliding

Ok, so Halloween is over and those of you new to foster care might be think that things will settle down once the candy high is past.  I advise you to think carefully about the children in your care and whatever is their background, because you may need to prepare for some rough waters. Halloween is just the first of a cascade of three holidays that focus on "Hallmark moments." You know what I mean... holidays filled with images of "typical" families, with close bonds, loving moments, sharing fun and celebrating together.

For children who are not able to be with their families, separated from parents, often separated from siblings, from neighborhoods and familiar schools, it is hard to find anything resembling Hallmark's images. Can you "fix" that?  No. But you can be aware of the stress it causes, particularly in children old enough to notice, but not old enough to really understand, let alone appreciate what you are trying to provide for them. Don't take it personally! Be prepared.

Talk to them about the holidays.  Find out what they would like to happen. They may have great holiday memories, terrible ones, or even innaccurate, imagined memories. Thanksgiving for them may have little to do with a big festive meal with relatives around the table. Start early to focus on the concept of thanks. Plan ways to help the children identify things they can be thankful for, modeling things for which you are thankful. And... though I know it is nearly eight weeks away.... start thinking about how you can support them emotionally not just through Thanksgiving, but Hannukah or Christmas or Kwanza the next month.

You cannot create perfect  Hallmark holidays, but if you are prepared and creative you can help them get through this stretch without falling apart.

PS. Remember that ALL kids can struggle during the holidays.  Click here for a fun post about some of the risks and strategies of even "typical" family gatherings from blogger Holly Homer who blogs at

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