Friday, May 27, 2016

6 Ways to Support Foster Families

I didn't want to end foster care awareness month without talking about the families who are taking care of those sweet kiddos! It can be a very hard, tiring and trying job! There are so many families out there doing amazing things and I think because foster care is so unknown and foreign to so many people, many of them don't get very much support. We have been very blessed to have so many people actively involved in our foster care journey, and we are very grateful for the support we have received! Not everyone should foster. Yes, there is a HUGE need for more families, but it's not for everyone! However, many people can help support these kiddos and families in other ways! Here are a few ideas, in case you want to help a foster family you know, but aren't sure what foster families need!
1. Bring meals
Much like having a newborn baby, having foster kiddos come to live with you can mean sleepless nights and lots of emotions in the beginning. It is often done with little to no planning or preparation, which can make it even more stressful! As foster families are trying to get to know the kiddos and vice versa, they are usually focusing all of their attention on loving them, making them feel at home and safe & secure. Meals are very helpful during this time! It is just one less thing that the foster parents have to think about. And let's face it-everyone's got to eat! 
2. Donate items
We were lucky to have a few days to prepare for our foster kids, but many people get as little as a 30 minute notice before kids are dropped off at their home. You can be somewhat prepared ahead of time, but you don't always know what age and gender of child you will be taking into your home. Many times these calls come in the middle of the night where you can't just run out and grab things, and the next day you are too exhausted to do so after pulling an all nighter with your new little love! If you hear about a family adding new children to their home, it is SO helpful to offer items you might have sitting around that they might need! Some examples would be cribs/beds, car seats, clothes, baby items, toys, books, etc. Not all necessities, but for many families, they've never had children in their home before and have none of this! Many children are brought to foster homes with little to no items. The foster family then has to find time to run out and get all of these things while taking care of the child(ren) during this huge trauma for them. It can also be a large expense for them. Many first time parents have 9 or more months to prepare for many of these items, and many times much of the items are gifted to them! Foster parents often go from having nothing one night to needing diapers, wipes, bottles, formula, an entire wardrobe, some toys, a crib, car seats, etc. the next night. That is a huge expense up front! 
3. Bring lunch/coffee/reinforcements
Asking your friends if you can stop by with lunch or coffee, or heck, even bagels, is so helpful during those sleep deprived nights. Even if they are fostering older children, the first few weeks/months can be very rough for everyone while they are getting adjusted. Coming over to entertain the kids or take the parents' mind off things with some mindless conversation + coffee is always helpful! Shout out to Raylene and Jenna for bringing me coffee and reinforcements a few weeks ago!! 
4. Become a respite provider
I am not sure if every state has respite, but in our state, if you are going to leave your foster children overnight, it must be with a licensed family/person. There is HUGE need for this! It is terribly hard to find people to do respite. We have found it especially hard to find it during the week because most respite families seem to work and since I stay home, our foster kids don't have child care for during the week. In our state, the process to become a respite provider is the same as becoming a foster or adoptive family. You do the background checks, take the classes and do the home study. Yes, it is a lot of work to go through to provide respite, but it is so needed and appreciated! If you have a heart for foster care, but can't become a foster family for whatever reason, consider providing respite! This is also a great way to get a feel for foster care on a temporary basis and see if it would be a good fit for you. 
5. Don't forget about foster families
Again, very similarly to having a new baby, foster families receive support in the beginning, but it quickly tapers off after the dust settles. Foster care is still very trying and emotionally and physically draining and the families continue to need support throughout the months/years depending on their situation. This could be offering to take the kiddos so they can go on a date or just get some housework done, this could be becoming a respite family, this could be bringing an unexpected meal or ice cream or coffee! Even just checking in with the family to see how things are going is so appreciated! Foster families cannot share many details about the case, but it is nice to know that people are thinking and praying for the situation and children. 

6. Help with childcare/appointments/transportation
If you are able to transport or help out with foster kiddos for childcare or other kiddos in the home, it is super helpful! It seems like often times foster kids have a lot of different appointments for a lot of different things and it can be very time consuming for the foster family. At one point, my husband and I figured out we were averaging about one appointment every week for our foster kids, and I actually think that will be increasing soon! Often times, those appointments will be for one at a time and depending what it is, sometimes we can't take the other 3. I know this is very common in foster care, so it is helpful to have people who are willing to help out in those ways! 
If you are a foster family or have supported one, what other things would you add?! 
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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mexican Build Up

This was my late grandma's recipe and I grew up eating it made by my mom on a semi regular basis. Every time I make it it reminds me of my mom and grandma. So good. And really easy to make, which is the kind of recipe that I love! 
Mexican Build Up
1 lb. ground beef or turkey
1 small onion, chopped (optional--I omit)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 6 oz. can tomato paste 
1 can rotel
3 tomato paste cans of water
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano 
1 tsp cumin 
1 tsp salt 
2 tsp sugar (I use 2 tsp of  honey)
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of cooked rice (this is the rice we buy)
Cook beef (and onions if you are using them) & drain.
Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, rotel, water, and spices. Stir. Then add cooked rice. 
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes until it thickens. 
The reason it's called Mexican Build Up is because you then put it on a bed of chips or fritos and add other toppings!
 Here are some ideas...
shredded lettuce (or you could put it on a bed of lettuce)
Shredded cheddar
Sliced green onions
Black olives
Sour cream 
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Friday, May 20, 2016

Week in the Life: Friday

Friday, May 20, 2016
My husband works 80 hours in a 9 day period instead of 10, and has every other Friday off. That's just how his team does it and half take off one Friday and half take off the other. Today was one of his Friday's off! 
(We spent a lot of time outside today, so I didn't pay very close attention to times, so most of it is approximate for today.)

About 8:30- The girls wake us up. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! They haven't slept in this late in awhile! We actually get a show started for the girls so we can lounge around and wake up slowly. Littles are still asleep (not sure why they are all such sleepy heads today, but I will take it)! I check my email and see that the littles visit with their mom was cancelled today due to the provider having a sick kiddo. We discuss our plans since we will have to rearrange them a little based on them being home during the morning now. 

Around 9:30 we are finally starting to get going on breakfast and everyone is awake by now. Honestly I am blanking on what all the kids had because my hubby took care of their breakfast. But I made a chocolate cherry smoothie and had salted avocado and honey on an Ezekiel english muffin. It was amazing. 

After breakfast, everyone gets dressed and we head outside by about 10, or a little after. Our plan was to get our backyard under control but we aren't sure how well we will be able to mow/weed eat/etc with the littles around so my husband decides to work on the garden with all the kids and I start mowing. We hadn't mowed the back yet this year and some parts were out of control. I was only planning on mowing the back because I mowed the front and side last week and the grass hasn't grown that much, but I did see that it needed it so I ended up mowing everything. When all was said and done I think it took me about an hour or hour and a half. Meanwhile, the kids and Daddy were rocking the garden. I have a black thumb, so that is their thing! Everyone was having so much fun planting and playing in the dirt. The kids took lots of play breaks to run back and forth between the back and front yards and play in their play house, cozy coupes, and all the other outside toys. 
{Showing me one of the many worms they dug up in the garden}

A little after noon, we head in for lunch. I get the littles wiped down because they are covered in dirt and my husband is fixing their lunch. Then, he makes us tuna melts while the kids eat. Everyone is hungry and tired so it seems like they all just eat a ton. We finally get done and I get the kitchen cleaned up, we take everyone potty, clean everyone up, etc. and start getting them down for naps. The littles go down about 1 and the girls about 1:15. We are hoping and praying for good naps since they ran around outside so much this morning! 
So, we have kind of a problem in our backyard. We live in a new subdivision, but the house behind us has been there for 40 some years. The sweetest elderly couple lives there (seriously, the sweetest. They mail the girls cards for every holiday, gave them cash in the cards for Christmas, give us baked goods often, etc. They are so precious) and so they have a huge tree on the side of their house which leans over into our backyard. It is a huge and beautiful tree that gives us amazing shade in the mornings in the summer. However, it drops billions of acorns into our yard and we can't get them under control. This year, tons of little trees are coming up and we can't stop them! Last year about 10-20 trees started to grow, but this year you can't even count them there are so many. Besides that, the acorns are everywhere. I seriously think there are tens of thousands. SO I decided to google what we can do about it. Picking them all up isn't an option because we would be out there doing it for weeks...there are just too many. In the morning I raked some up but it also took up a lot of grass and again, it would take forever to do that and I would still miss a ton. I googled about the trees and apparently if you mow over them enough times they'll stop growing, so that's not a huge deal. But the acorns. Oh, the acorns. When I was raking them, I said to my husband that we need something the opposite of a leaf blower that will suck them all up for me! So when I'm googling I come up on a few videos of people using a shop vac to get them up! Duh! All this to say that after all the googling, I went back outside while the kids were napping and started sucking up acorns. 2 hours and 8 GALLONS...yes EIGHT.GALLONS. of acorns later, the yard is mostly cleared of them! 
I came back in about 3:30 (my husband had been out trying to fix our weed eater that wasn't working right and doing some other yard work and went in around 3) and the girls were awake and playing. Littles were still sound asleep and worn out from the morning. 
At about 4 or 4:15 I started the rice for tonight's dinner and finished thawing the beef the rest of the way. The girls went outside to wash their playhouse and play outside. 
About 4:30 I started cooking the meat and assembling the rest of the meal until the rice was done, then added that and let everything simmer by about 4:45. 
At 5:00 I finally heard the littles waking up. Incredible! We got them and started Facetiming with my mom for her birthday! The girls "took" her out front and were chatting about who knows what, so we all eventually ended up out there until dinner about 5:20. 

5:45ish we are finished up with dinner and heading back outside to play. The girls are "washing" Daddy's car (hosing it down) and the littles are playing in the garage. After a bit we head back to the backyard and the kids all play. For awhile they all play in the playhouse together and it is super cute. I should have gotten a picture. They are all running around barefoot now that the yard is all cleaned up and are basically filthy between the morning, the water play, gardening and now running around the yard. It feels like summer!! My husband and I actually get a chance to just sit on the steps and talk because all the kiddos are having so much fun together, which is always so nice. 

About 7:15 we head inside and my husband bathes the littles and I start a shower for the girls in the other bathroom. Then I get a bedtime snack ready for everyone. Everyone gets out of shower/bath and we get jammies on, hair combed and they eat. They play for just a few minutes after snack and just before 8 we put the little ones to bed. We start snuggle time with the girls around 8 and they are in their room about 8:15, but my husband sings them a few extra songs and he is out of there by 8:30. He showers, then I shower and dry my hair and am done with all that around 9. We talk for a few minutes and then I start on this post about 9:15 and he leaves to go to a going away party for a co-worker of his who is deploying for a year. I am planning to finish this up, read my Bible and then get things together for some pictures I am doing tomorrow. 
It was such a great family day! We have had kind of a busy week so we haven't had much time together as a family and it was so nice to spend the whole day outside! The kids were all so worn out and sun kissed and dirty and it just made me smile.

 Seeing the ring of dirt and grass around the bathtub when they got out made me laugh and think that summer is definitely right around the corner! I can't wait for more days like this over the summer!! 
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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Week in the Life: Thursday

Thursday, May 19, 2016
6:00 a.m.-We are up and at 'em and ready (well not really ready, but you know...) to work out. Even though it's supposed to be pretty warm today, it's really cold this morning and not the most fun thing ever (we work out in our garage). But we power through! Arms and shoulders for me today. 
6:30-We are back inside. My husband hops in the shower quick and I get some breakfast for him to take to work and a protein shake for myself. I sit on the couch and drink it and pray for a little bit. 
6:45- He is off to work and I get into the shower. 
7:05-I am done showering and getting dressed and no one is up yet, so I decide to paint my toenails since I figure someone will be up shortly and I don't want to start doing anything that will take awhile and have to stop. 
7:20-My oldest is awake. I take her out to the couch and snuggle for a few minutes, then go to finish getting ready. 
7:30 or 7:40 I realize no one else seems to be waking up soon, so I start reading my Bible. I am catching up on a few missed days on my plan this week so I'm reading 2 Samuel 13-18 today. 
8:10-My younger daughter emerges and I am just wrapping up my reading. 
8:15-I am getting started on breakfast. We are out of toilet paper in the main bathroom, so I go to get some more and hear the littles quietly talking, so I get them up and get everyone to the table for breakfast! Some are having oatmeal, some are having toast and bananas. 
At breakfast we talk about what we are going to do today and my oldest really wants to go play at the mall, so I agree. 
8:45ish everyone has pretty much finished eating and I am cleaning up from breakfast, putting everything away and getting the kitchen in order for the day. 
About 9 or 9:15 everyone starts getting ready. The girls go pick out their clothes and get dressed while I am dressing the little kids. Everyone has potty breaks, we all brush teeth and I fix all 4 kids hair and we are off by about 9:40. 
We get to the mall and we are the only ones there! The best. The kids play for quite awhile before anyone else comes and even then, there only ever ends up being 2 other kids there. I think everyone was spending time outside today since it's so beautiful out! 
About 10:35 we go load up and head over to celebrate a friend's birthday. We get there around 11 and get out the double stroller, load everyone up, go inside and to the bathroom for potty breaks and when we come out I still don't see anyone we are meeting, so I double check the message and realize it's supposed to be at NOON, so we are an hour early. Boo! I have no idea why I had 11 in my mind. We go outside to the little courtyard and play a little and then I realize that there's no way we can wait around for almost an hour and then still have to get home for naps, so we just decide to go home. The kids are disappointed and I feel bad about it, but if we stayed the little ones would have been crabby and fallen asleep on the way home, then not napped at home and been miserable all night. So I knew we had to go. 
11:30-We get home and play out front for a little bit. By about 11:45, one little kid is throwing huge fits and one big kid is making some sad choices, so we head inside to take care of all of that. Usually around 11:30 at least half of my kids start losing their minds due to hunger and getting tired. Once I get everyone calmed down, I start fixing lunch. 
12:00-We are sitting down eating. Today is a  mish mash of leftovers, fruit, snap peas, and sandwiches. Random. Everyone is happy now that their bellies are getting full, so we start getting more smiles and everyone is calm.
12:20-We are finished with lunch and I get cleaned up while the kids play in the living room. 
12:30-Littles are losing their minds again, so I get them down for a nap. 
12:40-I read the girls a few books. Sarah is here again today so they want her to sing songs and put them down for a nap. 
12:50-I am starting on this post! After I work on the post, I surf around on the internet a little while and then about 1:30 I start reading my study for my Barnabas group tonight. 
2:00-I am done reading, so I start watching Gilmore girls. Trying to get it finished today! 
3:15-My younger daughter is up! I take her potty and get her a snack. My next daughter wakes up around 3:30. I start getting them ready because they go with my mother-in-law every other Thursday evening. 
3:45ish-One of the littles is up so I bring them out and we play for a little bit, then I get them a snack. We all play and read books while waiting for Grandma. 
4:30-The girls are gone with Grandma and I'm down to one awake child for a short time. We go outside for a few minutes, then come in and get the last child up. 
Just before 5 my husband gets home and we leave to go on a date. Our first one since February!! We have Chick fil a calendar cards and this month was a free entree salad, so we went there and had dinner. Then we went to a nearby park and parked and walked to get ice cream. I'm guessing it was a little over a mile to get there and then back to the car. It was fun and nice to be able to actually hold hands, walk and talk at the same time with no interruptions!! 
6:45-We have a little time to kill so we decide to go to a nearby Salvation Army store that just opened to see what it's like inside. It is actually very nice. We end up getting a game for the girls for like $1.50. 
7:30-We are back home and my husband starts getting the littles ready for bed and I head out for my Barnabas group shortly after. 
8-9:15-I am at Barnabas. The girls come home around 8:15 and  he gets them to bed after that. 
I get home and start getting this post finished up. It has been kind of a crazy week schedule wise and this is the first evening my husband and I have had together post kid bedtime so we are sitting together on the couch while I type this out and he is playing a game on his computer. We will probably watch a few episodes of a show and head to bed by 11 or so! 
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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Week in the Life: Wednesday

Here's another day in our life this week! Read about our Tuesday here
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
7:15 a.m.-Our alarm goes off. Because my husband worked late last night, he gets to go in a little later this morning. He is usually gone by this time. I actually have a girl coming over for several days to "job shadow" me as a stay at home mom, so that's why I'm getting up! 
7:30-Sarah arrives and I tell her what my plan is for the day. The girls also wake up right about the same time and go in to snuggle Daddy since they didn't see him last night. 
8:00-I start fixing scrambled eggs for everyone for breakfast. Daddy and the girls are slow moving and just kind of lounging around. They are telling him about their day yesterday. They really miss him when his schedule is different! 
8:15ish-I hear one of the littles awake so I go to get them, but the other is still sleeping. 
8:30ish-Breakfast! We all sit down for eggs, and the kids have a banana and milk, too. 
8:45-I finally wake up the last kiddo because I need to get them eating and then they are off on a visit. Daddy leaves sometime around now. 
When the littles are finished up, I get them changed and dressed and ready to go see their mom. The girls have gotten dressed by this point and are wanting to play outside so they do that with Sarah. 
9:15-The provider is here to pick up the littles for their visit. He is in a different vehicle than usual and realizes he doesn't have car seats in this one, so I have to take ours out of the van for him, which takes a little longer than normal, but not a huge deal. 
9:30-Time to clean! I try to do majority of my cleaning on Wednesday morning when the littles are gone. I start in the kitchen and the girls pick up the living room. Today since we have Sarah here, she helps them and they all take turns vacuuming and  move on to pick up their bedroom, make their beds, etc. They eventually end up doing all the windows too and things move much faster with an extra set of hands! It typically takes me about 1.5-2 hours to deep clean the upstairs of our home, but it's about an hour today with even doing a few extra things than normal! So anyway, I work on the kitchen while they do all of those other things, and then when they are finished up they go to play outside and I do my bedroom and the bathroom and the upstairs is done! 
10:30ish-We decide to run to the store quick to get more frozen fruit to make smoothies for lunch because we only have frozen pineapple. The girls take a potty break, get shoes on, etc. while I finish up a few more chores last minute. 
10:50 or so we are out the door and it's a race to get there and back before the littles! We head to Walmart and it is actually empty there, so we get a good parking spot and there's no line at check out! Score! We end up getting one of those pre made subs for lunch, too so that we can cut that up and all split it for lunch. I decide to run through the bank on the way home since we have a little extra time. 
11:30-We pull in and get unloaded and into the house and then the littles get home. It was pretty close! I get car seats switched back over and chat with the provider about the case for a little while. 
12:00-Lunch time! The littles ate at their mom's but want to be in on the action so I give them a little snack while we all eat as well. I make smoothies and Sarah cuts up the sub for us. Everyone eats really well, which is always nice! 
12:40-I put the little kids down for their nap. Sarah does stories with the girls and then I tuck them in and sing songs a little after 1:00. 
After all the kids are down and I start folding the girls laundry that I put in sometime in the morning and forgot to mention. 
About 2:00 I go take a quick shower and then have my Bible time. 
When I get done with those things, around 3, I start on this post until the girls wake up around 3:20ish. 
I get the girls a snack, and they immediately ask to go outside. We have been having some colder weather lately so now that the sun is out again and it's getting warm again they are soaking it all up! 
We head outside about 3:45 and I come back in about 4 to see if the little ones are awake and get them up. They have their snack on the back deck and then join in on the fun. 
We play out back until Daddy gets home at about 4:50. Everyone is hot and getting tired by that point. The sun is super strong today! We all go inside and just play in the living room for a bit. Read books, etc. About 5:20 my husband starts making pancakes and bacon for dinner. Sarah leaves shortly after that to go to a small group. 
We eat from about 5:30 or a little after until just before 6. 
After dinner, we decide to go get some plants for our garden. We did not have great luck with our garden last year (our first year trying one) so we decided to just get a few different things this year and see how it goes!
We load up and go to Lowe's. The girls have fun looking at the plants and seeing all the things we could grow. We decide on cucumbers, red bell peppers (the girls FAVORITE), basil and snap peas. 
Around 7 we head home. The little ones go straight to the bath and the girls play out back for a few minutes until it's their turn. I get the little ones in jammies and Daddy gets the girls bath going and bedtime snacks ready. 
7:40ish, the littles are having their snack and the girls are still in their bath. We get the littles finished up and take them to bed about 7:50, after the girls have gotten out of the bath and are starting on their snack. My husband leaves right after that to go to his Barnabas group (men's small group) and I finish getting the girls ready for bed. Everything is taking longer tonight for some reason so we finally get into my bed about 8:15 for their snuggle time and I get them into their beds about 8:35. 
Now I am finishing up this post and going to lounge until my husband gets home soon. Today felt really long and I am super tired tonight, so we will probably go to bed somewhat early tonight. 
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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Week in the Life: Tuesday

I absolutely LOVE doing day in the life posts (and reading other people's!) and I try to do them at least a couple times a year or so. It is just fun to look back on them and see what our daily life was like at different stages. Things with kids change so fast, it is really, really easy to forget the little details of our day at certain ages. I have been wanting to put together a day in the life post for several months, but every time I think about it I can't decide what day to do because I feel like with our schedule right now and also with doing foster care, every day is pretty different. So I decided to do a week! I am excited to look back on it 6 months or a year from now and see how things have changed yet again. I didn't decide to do the whole week until about halfway through the day today, so I don't have a ton of pictures from today, but hopefully the rest of the week I will have more :) As of today, my girls are 3 and 4 1/2. I'll just refer to our foster kiddos as the little kids to make things a little less confusing and I'm sure I will have to leave some things out since I can't share a lot of details about them or pictures, so just bear with me. 
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
(My husband's schedule was funny yesterday and today. He teaches training classes and his company sent him to an on site class these 2 days and it was during their second shift. So he normally works normal business hours, but these 2 days he was teaching a class later in the day and also had an hour and a half commute each way, so long day for him.) 
7:45ish-the girls wake us up. Normally my husband would already be at work, but since he doesn't have to go in until later today he is here and it works out great because I actually have to get the little kids ready for an appointment at 9. Getting the kids up and ready to go somewhere right away is always hard with 4, so it's nice that 1) I have him there to help and 2) I only have to take 2 kids since the girls can stay home with him. 
8:00-breakfast and getting myself and the little kids ready to go.
8:40-The girls and daddy are playing and there is talk of bike riding while we are gone. The littles and I head out. 
9:00- Get to their appointment. It's super fast and we are done by 9:30 and on our way home. Yay! 
9:45-Home. Daddy and the girls are playing Go Fish. I run a load of little kid laundry down to the basement and get it started. 
10:00ish- Everyone is outside playing! I decide I'm going to try to run to the post office. My mom and niece have birthdays and I need to mail a package out to them, but I really loathe taking kids to the post office. I have no idea what it is about that place, but that is the worst errand to run with kids! So I decide to take advantage of my husband being home during post office hours and run over there quick. So while they are playing outside, I wrap the gifts and get the box ready to mail. 
10:30-11:00-Post office run. When I get back everyone is still playing outside in the front yard/driveway. Big sis is riding her bike up and down the street a bajillion times. Littles are playing in the rocks and with chalk. I think there are some bubbles happening. Daddy is sneaking in a workout while they play. 
11:20-We head in to get lunch going. We usually don't eat until about noon, but that's when my husband has to leave so we eat early. The girls ask for mac and cheese and since we have leftover stew from last night that they didn't like, I make it for them. Everyone is eating by about 11:40 or so. 
A little after 12, Daddy hits the road. 
I get the littles changed and ready for a nap a little early and put them down about 12:30. 
I let the girls pick out 3 books each since we have some extra time today. They have a ton of Fancy Nancy books from the library right now, but we have read each of them to the point that I almost have them memorized. I think we read 4 Fancy Nancy's, a Pete the Cat and Lola the Lollipop Fairy. 
1:00-potty and nap time! I always tuck them in and sing 2 songs then leave. 
I go out to the living room and have my God time. I am still going through the chronological plan and it jumped around in several chapters in Psalms today.  
1:45ish-I read a chapter in Bringing Up Girls but it was really short so I decided to read another chapter, which was a mistake. I could not focus and it took me forever to read that second chapter. 
Around 2:30 my favorite person of the day texts and asks if I'm home and she can bring me something. Then shows up at my door with a giant, amazing, delicious cupcake and totally made my day! Thanks, Ash!! That was a much appreciated afternoon pick me up to get me through the long afternoon/evening! 
2:45 a kid has been crying on and off for a little while (like cries for 2 minutes, goes back to sleep, then does it again a little while later) but I know they are not ready to wake up yet. You know when you can just tell by the type of cry? So I leave them for a little bit in hopes that they'll eventually go back to sleep (they are not hysterical or anything, don't worry!!) and start reading my novel for a little bit. 
3:30 or so, the first girl emerges from her room. We snuggle for a minute and she asks if she can watch a show on Netflix and at this point I am watching a YouTube video on my phone so I say sure. The littles are up shortly after that and I wake my younger daughter around 4 because if she sleeps much longer than that, she won't go down well tonight. Yes, I am amazingly blessed that all 4 nap at the same time! Believe me, I am soooo thankful for that and dreading the day it comes to an end! 
4:00-I get the kiddos a small snack (raisins and the littles have veggie straws and milk, too) since it's not that long until dinner. 
4:30-I decide we should make pizzas for dinner so that we don't have a whole huge meal without my husband tonight, and also because I don't feel like cooking a big meal. The girls love making their own little pizzas! We make them on pitas tonight, but we also LOVE grilling pizza
5:00-we are sitting down eating around now. One of the littles is lactose intolerant so I just give them the pita, pepperonis, and sides all separately instead of in pizza form. 
5:30-We are wrapping up dinner. I think one of the girls has gone out to the backyard. It seems like it takes me forever to get back there. As soon as I've got one kiddo ready, one of the other ones needs a diaper or has to go potty or takes their shoes back off or something. But I finally make it out there with the other 3 after everyone is ready and dinner and kitchen have been cleaned up. 
We play outside for quite a while. It is SO nice out! My younger daughter picks some flowers (really weeds), and I get her a cup with water so she can put them in it. Then she puts it on our picnic tables and brings me a pretend drink so we sit down and then decide we are on a "date". So we play that for awhile. She is a pretty adorable date ;) My older daughter is busy in the play house running her "restaurant". She brings us beverages every so often. There is lots of playing with the cozy coupes, balls, climbing the stairs, jumping and "cheersing" with our "milkshakes" know, all kinds of good stuff. 
About 7:00 I start bringing them in. My oldest daughter wants to take a bath so I get that going for her. I wasn't planning on it being a bath night, but she can pretty much do it herself now so she gets in the bath while I am getting a snack ready for everyone. 
About 7:20 I have the brilliant idea to start clipping nails while the littles are brushing teeth. So 40 fingers and 40 toes later, we are done with that. Everyone has a full belly, nice short nails on both their feet and hands, and clean teeth! 
I get the littles to bed about 7:30 or 7:40 (they usually go down between 7:30 and 8 or so) and finish getting the girls ready for bed. In all, starting with snack/bath and ending when I close the last bedroom door, the whole bedtime routine takes around an hour with all 4. There are a lot of jammies to put on, bellies to make full and bladders to empty before bed ;) Usually my husband and I tag team it pretty well but I gave myself some extra time since I was on my own tonight. 
The girls and I are in my bed by about 7:45 for snuggle time. We send Daddy a good night snap chat and start with our routine. 
We all say what made us feel happy, sad and loved that day, everyone picks something to pray for and then each girl gets to pick a song for me to sing. It really helps them wind down feel extra loved before going to sleep. One girl picks "Bright White Gates" (Cielo by Phil Wickham) and the other picks Oceans by Hillsong. They get one last quick sip of water and then head to bed. I tuck them in and sing a few more songs to get them settled in, then say goodnight. I am out of their room about 10 after 8:00 or so. 
About 8:15 I start folding the load of laundry I did earlier today and put that away. 
8:40ish, I get myself a snack and watch part of a YouTube video while I eat. I catch up on some blog reading.
9:00 I just start writing this when I hear a huge bang in the girls' room and one starts crying. Then the other starts crying. It sounded like someone banged their head on the wall, but they are both crying so I don't know who it is! I think they had both been asleep so it takes me a minute to get an answer from either one because they are confused and crying. Little sis banged her head on her bed, and it woke up and scared big sis. Hugs for everyone and an ice pack for little sis, then back to sleep. I continue writing this and am wrapping up about 9:45! I'm planning to just relax now and watch Gilmore girls (I have 2 1/2 episodes left and am powering through!) until my husband gets home soon! 
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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Foster Care Q&A

Since May is foster care awareness month, I put out a plea for questions on social media and I got lots that I'm happy to answer today! Ever since we started doing foster care, we have gotten gobs and gobs of questions. Everyone seems to be really interested in it. I think most people don't know a lot about it in general. That coupled with so many misconceptions and misunderstandings of the system make for a lot of questions! I am not one of those that is easily offended by questions and I am so happy when we get a chance to share about our journey so far! I always hope that it will encourage someone who is feeling the tug to look into it a little bit more. And yes, I used to be one of those who said "I could NEVER do that!" Never say never ;) This may get to be a lengthy post, but I am hopeful that it will spark something in the heart of at least one person/family! There are so many precious children out there who need love and a home and I definitely know that this isn't for everyone, but there are so many people who could be great foster/adoptive families who are hesitant to step into it. I understand-that was me for a long, long time! So, let's get to it! I am going to try to break it up more into general questions and questions about our family's personal experience. Here we go!

I do want to mention really quickly that every state is different! Not all of what I say will apply to the state you are in. I would highly encourage you to find someone who has actually done or is doing foster care in your state if you have specific questions, as it can be hard to find accurate information on the internet sometimes! So with that being said, I will answer the questions to the best of my ability, but please know that not all of my answers will be applicable depending where you live. 

I am interested in fostering/adopting through the state, but don't know where to start.
I think the best thing to do is to google "How to become a foster parent in the state of ____". Most states will have a government site with more information to get started! 

What does it take to become a foster/adoptive parent? 
In our state, we had to go to an informational meeting where we filled out an application and background checks/fingerprints. After those were processed (several weeks) they contacted us with possibilities for class times. We signed up and had to take 10 weeks of classes (I believe this is on the higher end of what most states require-some require no training) and have a home study completed during that time. We had 30 hours of class total and it FLEW by honestly. After that, we waited for our home study to be approved and receive our license in the mail! 

How long does the process take? 
For us, it took about 7 months from the time we first attended the informational meeting to the time we had kids placed in our home. I think this is pretty average. 
  • We attended the meeting in June 
  • Started classes in August (we actually got lucky because we were supposed to start them in the fall because that was the soonest class that worked with our schedule, but they called us for a last minute opening in the August class and we took it! Pretty cool how it worked out because we wouldn't have the kiddos we do if we hadn't gotten into that class!)
  • Finished up classes in mid October
  • Had our last home study end of October
  • Home study was completed and turned in by our worker right before Thanksgiving
  • We received our license in the mail the day after Christmas 
  • Had kids placed with us the beginning of January
I am a single parent. Will they approve me? 
Yes!! They need people from ALL walks of life to be foster parents! There are many amazing single parent homes! In fact, my husband brought up the point that it could be very beneficial for certain children depending on what their background is (i.e. if a child has been abused by a male, perhaps a single mom would be a great fit for them as they work through that trauma!) In our class we had 5 single people, which was almost half of the households! We had people with older children, younger children, no children. We had people who were looking only to foster, only to adopt, to foster or adopt, or had a specific child already in mind (i.e. a relative or family friend, etc.) We had people who wanted to help with teens and those who wanted to help children with particular needs. It is incredible to see how God has given us all different gifts and abilities and He will use each one of those for a kiddo who needs just what you can offer! I would really encourage anyone who has thought or prayed about fostering to look into it. They don't care if you own a home or rent, as long as you have a stable living situation! They don't care if you are a millionaire or middle class, as long as you can provide for a child's basic needs. They don't care if you are 21 years old or 61 years old. They want to know that you can love and provide for a child! 

How do you afford to be a foster parent? 
This is one of those that is going to vary greatly state to state. In our state, we are paid a daily rate for each child that we have in our home for foster care. This comes in the form of a reimbursement after the month is complete. I would imagine that most if not all states have at least something. I have heard that some people say it barely makes a dent in what they spend on the child and I have heard others say that it is more than enough to cover what they spend. I think it all depends what age the child is, what their needs are, and what expenses they/you have for them. In our case, we have found the reimbursement to be more than enough and we have not gone into any financial distress being foster parents. 

What?! They see their parents? WHY?! 
This has been one of the questions we have received the MOST and it surprised me at first! I guess there must be a large misconception that once children are removed from their home, that is that. (Perhaps that is so in some states). In our state, DHS has a goal to reunify the family until a judge decides otherwise. This means that children will have visitation with their parent(s) in order to obtain this goal and/or decide if the parent is able to meet the child's needs and care for them. These visits can be fully supervised by a social worker (meaning the worker comes to the foster home or daycare to pick up the child, takes them to meet the parent, staying with them the whole time, and taking them back to the foster home/daycare), semi-supervised (the social worker will drop by for random check-ins while the child is with their parent), or unsupervised (the parent has the child for X amount of time with no one checking in). I believe that typically they start at one end and work their way to the other before the child returns home, if they are going to reunify. Visits are crucial, as the parents need to have a chance to work toward getting their children back in the home, and the court needs to be able to be certain that they have done all they can do to support those efforts before terminating rights. 

What is YOUR contact with the parents like? 
In our specific case (which I think is the norm for our state), we have regular contact with the kids' mom. She has my phone number and I have hers. She does not know where we live or come to our home. The kids are taken to hers for visits. We attend appointments together and talk/text on a semi regular basis to communicate between when they are at my home and hers (when did they last eat, they are sick, etc.) I think in some states there is no direct communication between the sets of parents. I would check with your social workers in your state to find out!

I always wonder about the possibility of birth parents tracking you down. Like showing up on your doorstep. The safety aspect there concerns me. Is that anything you worry about? 
For us personally, no. We know their mom and she is not a threat. My husband brought up a great point that these parents are working to get their children back in their homes, so if they go off of the case plan and show up at the foster home randomly, that is not going to look good at their next court date. Now, what about parents who aren't trying to reunify or who aren't safe for the children to be around? My best advice would be to ask questions when you get a call for the child. You do not have to take any child you get a call about. The reason the child was removed from the home (if that information is available) might be able to tell you some about the safety and risk factors there. If you do not feel comfortable with it, you can say no. As far as parents tracking you down if their rights are removed to try to get their children, I think it would depend on the case. Most of the cases I have seen where rights were/are going to be removed, the parents didn't follow their case plan and do what they needed to do to reunify. In most cases, they are going to let that be that. I am definitely not saying it couldn't happen, but I have never heard of it happening. I do think there are a lot of misconceptions about these parents and the ones that I have seen/heard of/met are normal people who have made some poor choices or been in stressful circumstances and not had a lot of support. Most of them aren't dangerous and most of them do love their children very much, but may have a lot of struggles. 

What if I only want to adopt and not foster first? 
You can do that! In our state, you can apply to be a foster parent, adoptive parent, or be dually licensed. We are dually licensed. If you want to only adopt, you can put your feelers out there to social workers who may know of children in need of a forever home. Some states list certain children on websites, but many avoid doing that unless they have met every dead end. In our state, once TPR (termination of parental rights) occurs, they will search for a biological family member to adopt. This could be a distant relative that the children don't even know. Once that is ruled out, they typically try to find a family who knows the child (foster family, families who have done respite for those children, etc.) and if they still aren't able to, that is when they would look at waiting families. Some families in our state choose to make up a little flyer or brochure about their family and send it to different adoption workers in different counties within our state to make themselves more memorable. Some check in with different workers every few months to see if anything has come up. My understanding is that if you want to go that route, you need to make yourself memorable to every social worker because they have lots of families waiting who just sit and wait. Most of the cases I have seen, a foster or respite family wants to adopt so it doesn't even get that far a lot of the time, but it definitely does happen! 

Can I specify what kind of child I feel comfortable taking? 
Absolutely! If you aren't comfortable with taking teens, you can tell them! In our case, they had us fill out a very detailed questionnaire on ages, gender, medical needs, learning needs, dietary needs, and much more! In some cases, they may still call you about a child who doesn't fit the criteria you feel comfortable working with, and it's ok for you to say no if you don't feel comfortable. In our class, they talked a lot about how you should be careful not to take on what you aren't comfortable with. Many times people do this trying to be the "hero" for those kiddos and it ends up as a disaster for everyone involved. It's not fair for the kiddos especially. It would benefit them much more for them to have a caregiver who is comfortable/able to take care of them they way they best deserve (this can even be just related to age or gender) and there's someone else out there who will be great for them! You don't have to feel bad about saying no (this was very freeing for me to hear)! 

Onto the questions more specifically about our personal experience! 

What made you decide to foster?
This is a super loaded question, but the biggest reason is need! My heart has always been for kiddos who need families whether it be foster care, international adoption, domestic infant adoption, etc. It has been our desire over the last few years to really find a way to care for those who need it most and foster care is definitely that! We both used to say we could never, ever do foster care, but a little over a year ago our hearts really started to change. It went from being something really scary and unknown and too hard, to being something close to the heart of God and something that we wanted to at least try and step into. Yes it is still scary. Yes it there are still SO many unknowns every day, but God is growing us a lot through all of those harder things. Just because something is hard, doesn't mean we shouldn't do it! 

When will you adopt your foster kids? 
We do not know if/when we will adopt them. Their mom still has parental rights so for right now, we support reunification between she and her children. If her rights are terminated, we will go from there! The unknowns are very hard sometimes (Hello, type A planner here!) but we are trusting in God for THEIR future and trust that they will end up where is best for them, whether that be with Mom, with us, or with someone else. 

How do you handle the emotional toll with the possibility of giving them back? Do you look at them as your own or more that you're helping them? 
It is all very emotional for many different reasons, but I think in this case, we went into it knowing nothing was guaranteed. I have often heard people say they couldn't do foster care because they could never love a child and have to give them back. This was a huge reason I stayed away from it for so long, honestly. I don't know what is different for me now other than knowing their mom, knowing she is doing her best and knowing that she loves her kids. I am very aware of the fact that they are not my children. God has trusted me with them for a time, and I don't know if that time will be another week or their lifetime. I do try my best to love them like my own, but yes I am hyper aware of the fact that they aren't right now. I think as more of the unknowns become known this will change, whether with them or with future foster kiddos. Part of it is protecting our hearts not to be broken, and part of it is respect for their bio family and reunification. I don't want to live in a bubble pretending like this is our happy family of 6 (yes we are happy and yes we consider them a part of our family right now, but hopefully you get my jist) when their family is trying, if that makes sense! I want to respect the process as best as I can. We let the Department and the courts decide what is best for the kiddos and go from there. I think emotionally, it has gotten easier as time has gone on. When they first came, I was heartbroken just thinking about them going home. But as time has progressed and I have gotten to know their Mom and them, I think it is easier to see the whole picture and trust God with whatever happens. That being said, some days are still very hard! 

Are you called Mom and Dad?
Our fosters do not call us anything yet. I imagine that eventually it will be inevitable since we have kids in the home calling us Mom and Dad! They are bound to pick up on that as well, I think. I have heard of foster families going by Mommy {first name}, i.e. Mommy Natalie, to differentiate that you are the Mommy in this house, but not Mommy. I have also hard of some just going by first names. I think a lot depends on the age of the kids and where they are at in the process as well! We did respite for some children who immediately called us Mommy and Daddy. I think they just thought that was what they should call any man and woman in the house, and obviously since they were with us for one night, they knew we weren't actually Mommy and Daddy, but it was easier for them to just call us that I think, so we didn't correct them. 

How do the girls handle it?
The girls have done surprisingly well! We had to make some adjustments in the beginning due to one of them having some feelings. I think there was some jealousy/not understanding why we didn't have quite as much time and attention, but not really knowing how to express that. Once I realized what was going on with her, we had a talk about it and implemented a special snuggle time at bed with just them. We put the other kiddos to bed first, so after we do that we let the girls cuddle up in our bed with us and we go around and say what made us feel happy, sad and loved that day, pick one thing to pray for and each girl gets to choose a song for me to sing. I think this has helped them to have reassurance that although there are other people taking up more of our attention, they are still loved immensely and deeply! As far as how they are doing with the kiddos...amazing! They are incredible. They have loved them so well! I am so proud of how well they have loved and accepted them and I have learned so much from their unconditional love. I was really worried (and still some days am) about how it would be for them to only do this temporarily. We went into it telling them that we are taking care of them for now, and it might not be forever. They know this and ask about it frequently. I think they understand it as well as a 3 and 4 year old possibly can. They love them and I'm sure it will be hard if they don't stay, but they are very aware that it is a possibility and we talk through it whenever they have questions about it. 

How has it changed your family life/how has it changed your life practically? 
How has it NOT?! Honestly, everything has changed! We have had to change our schedules, our activity level, etc. In the beginning it was a lot to get used to. We went from having to get 2 kids ready and out the door, to 4! The first few weeks were CRAZY! We definitely had moments of "WHAT DID WE GET INTO!?!?!?" but things calmed down. I think in general, I still need to have less commitments now than I did before. The kiddos have more appointments, and working around their visit schedule can be tricky, so I have had to just put some things on the backburner for now. This is our ministry right now and our family and home has our largest focus right now, and that is ok! (It took me awhile to actually feel like it is ok, though!) Going from 2-4 overnight was a huge leap. I thought we were prepared but we really weren't LOL! But that is parenting in general, I think! Everything is a little slower, a little more work, a little harder, but also more fun and more love! 

If you made it to the end, high five!! Maybe this has answered a lot of your questions, or maybe it has sparked even more questions for you! Please ask! I love talking about foster care and adoption. Adoption is something I always thought I would do. Foster care is not. But I am becoming more and more passionate about it daily! 

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May Menu & Aldi/Walmart Haul

I mentioned in my last post that I do one big shopping trip to Aldi and Walmart to stock up on the majority of my dried food for the month. That way, I can go to Sam's where I have more affordable, better quality, more organic options, etc. for produce. About once a month or less I go to Costco and stock up on a lot of canned and dried goods there because they have more organic options for way better prices than I can find anywhere around here. So I thought I would share my big shopping haul for this month! I just went to Costco about a week or so before this, so I actually already had quite a bit of what I needed for recipes and such in my basement. 
As far as my menu for this month, I needed 27 meals based on our schedule this month. I usually try to plan 1 breakfast for dinner a week, 1 meatless meal per week, 1 fish (we bought bulk Salmon from Zaycon months ago and are on our last few fillets!), 2 beef and 2 chicken. I buy a rotisserie from Sam's almost every time I go. I know I could roast my own chicken and it would be a little healthier, but you just absolutely cannot beat the price of the Sam's chickens. They last us 2 dinners plus 1-2 lunches...they are just huge! So here's my menu...
  • Pancakes & Bacon (my husband will make these...his pancakes are so good)
  • Quiche with fresh fruit
  • Scrambled eggs and potatoes
  • Omelettes
  • Lo Mein & eggrolls 
  • Bean tostadas, rice and salad
  • Alfredo, salad, bread (Anyone have a good homemade alfredo recipe with cleaner ingredients?!)
  • Pita pizzas
  • Grilled salmon, sweet potatoes, fresh veggie
  • Grilled salmon, salad, couscous
  • Honey garlic salmon, fresh veggie, rolls
  • Beef stew
  • Tacos
  • Taco soup
  • Rice bowls with ground beef
  • Mexican build up (recipe coming this month!)
  • Steak, baked potatoes, salad
  • Steak fajitas
  • Grass fed burgers on sprouted buns with mushroom & provolone, either baked or sweet potato fries
  • Rotisserie, veggie, couscous
  • Cobb salad (with left over rotisserie meat) 
  • Lemon garlic chicken
  • Rotisserie, potatoes, veggie
  • Chicken tortilla soup (with leftover rotisserie meat) 
  • Grilled chicken (haven't decided what we will have for sides...whatever we have on hand!)
  • Rotisserie (ditto about the sides)
  • Pesto meatball soup (this isn't made with chicken, but I forgot to put it elsewhere)
For breakfasts this month we will have...
Scrambled eggs 3 times per week
Oatmeal 2 times per week
Smoothies & boiled eggs once a week 
Banana muffins once a week 

Lunches we do leftovers when possible. I do make mac n cheese for my kids about once a week. We will probably do eggs once a week, they like to eat lunchmeat just plain (not in a sandwich), I'm planning to make egg salad once a week or so, etc. 

Here is my haul from Aldi and Walmart. I have to run to the Co-Op to get just a few things (Einkorn pasta, dairy free pesto, sprouted buns)
Here it is broken down by category a little more...

  • 2 bags of purple grapes (these were super cheap, which is why I bought 2 bags!)
  • 3 heads romaine lettuce (they didn't have organic when I went...these are mostly for jar salads for lunches/cobb salad)
  • 2 bags caesar salad kit (convenience! ;) 
  • Small container strawberries (my kids will literally eat these in one sitting...I usually buy at least 4 pounds a week at Sam's)
  • 2 cucumbers for salads
  • 4 sweet potatoes
  • 5 lb bag of red potatoes
  • Gala apples
  • Mushrooms 
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Pom juice (this wasn't on my list but I have been really wanting to try it and the only other place I've seen it is Costco and it's HUGE...wanted to try this small one to see if I like it first and it was on special buy at Aldi!)
  • 2 packs of chicken breasts (I will buy more at Sam's next week...this was for grilling for lunches/salads this week)
  • Turkey pepperoni for pita pizzas...I forgot I was going to the Co-op or I would have bought the Applegate pepperoni there.
  • 2 lbs. grass fed beef (I have a few more pounds in the freezer from when it was on sale last month)
  • 3 packs of nitrate free  lunch meat. The ingredients in these are not bad and the price is pretty good compared to other brands I've seen! 
  • 2 packs of hickory smoked uncured bacon (this bacon is sooooo good! We will do one on breakfast for dinner night and one weekend morning for breakfast)
  • Block of cheddar
  • Block of mozzarella (I meant to buy fresh mozz since it's for pizzas but wasn't thinking)
  • Sliced provolone for burgers
  • Pie crust for quiche 
  • Frozen corn for taco soup 
  • Italian meatballs (I would like to make my own but don't have time this month) for pesto meatball soup/my kids will eat these for lunches
  • Organic plain yogurt (I usually buy the greek which is really good...we will see how this is!)
  • I also got eggs and milk, which I forgot to take out of the fridge! I got 9 dozen, but the bag fell off my van when I was loading and I think I have about 7 dozen that survived.
Dry Goods
  • Garlic bread (I threw this in the freezer to have with alfredo for an easy dinner on a soccer or life group  night)
  • Bread
  • 3 boxes of couscous
  • 1 box organic mac and cheese (I mean, it's still mac and cheese, so certainly not healthy by any means, but these are the best ingredients I've seen for a box of mac and cheese so I don't feel AS bad about it)
  • Pepperoni, which I already said
  • Gallon size bags
  • Tortillas for fajitas
  • Pancake mix (this is the BEST pancake mix...definitely a splurge meal though!)
  • Black olives
  • Tomatoes w/ green chilies (rotel basically)
  • Veggie chips to have with burgers or lunches
  • Veggie straws (my kids will crush this bag in a week. Not the best thing ever, but the ingredients are a lot better than a lot of other things they ask for!) 
  • Corn chips (fritos basically. These only have corn, salt and oil...not bad!) 
  • Crackers 
Here's what I picked up at Walmart...

  • 4 bushels of bananas (I can't stand Aldi bananas. I've tried so many times and they always go bad within a day or 2. These will all be gone before the weekend!) 
  • Ranch style beans for taco soup
  • Alfredo 
  • Ranch mix (I like to have these on hand...does anyone have a good dry ranch recipe with better ingredients?! I would love to make my own!!) 
  • Pizza sauce 
  • Toastada shells
  • stand and stuff taco shells 
I also had to get baby wipes and a few other non food things from Walmart. 
I already had nuts, oatmeal, some snacks, organic canned tomatoes from Costco, some frozen items, dry beans, etc. on hand for the month. The rest of the month, I will go to Sam's once a week to pick up mostly produce but also milk if we need it, eggs, chicken, etc. 

That's pretty much what groceries for a month look like for a family of 6! 

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How I Menu Plan and Shop for a Month

In the last few years, I have learned a lot more about food, what we are putting into our bodies, what "healthy" is, and how I want to be feeding myself and my family. Ok, honestly, it is still such a learning curve. There is so much I want to do, but those darn cravings. BUT, we have changed our eating quite a bit and learned and applied what we feel is how we should be eating. For our family, that has been eating as close to nature as possible. Real foods. Not packaged foods filled with preservatives, and stuff that we shouldn't even be putting in our bodies that is considered "food". Yes my kids still eat crackers sometimes. We are not perfect-you'll see that when I share my menu! But we are aiming to be better and continue learning more about food and making a little more from scratch each month than the last. We buy organic when we can, we try to buy the best quality dairy and meats when possible and affordable. 
So the whole point of this post is to say that I had to start shopping at several different stores to get the best prices/best quality on different things. It was getting to be too much. I am not dragging my kiddos to 3 or 4 stores every week to shop, we would all go insane. So last fall, I decided to try menu planning out the whole month in advance. I have avoided this in the past and done it week by week because I don't always know our schedule a month in advance and it is a lot of work to plan a whole month of meals at once! Now that I have been doing it this way for quite awhile, it has really been working well, so I thought I would share how I do it!
First step...planning the menu! 
If you don't already menu plan, DO IT! It saves so much time, money, and is way less headache. I do not plan out day by day. I might not feel like having tacos on the 2nd Tuesday of the month. I get out my planner, look for any events we might have or times we might be eating out, and try to count out about how many days I need meals for that month. Yes, we usually end up eating out a few more times than I thought we would, but then I just move those extra meals to the next month's plan and it isn't a big deal at all. I take into account days where I need a quick meal (like Life Group or soccer nights), birthdays/events, if we might be having people over/going to someone's house, etc. It's not a perfect system and sometimes I have to run to the nearest grocery store to get a side dish to take somewhere, but it works well for the most part. 
Next, I make a list of what I want/need to buy from which store. Like I said before, I had been going to several different stores to try to get the best quality at the best price. Now I know the absolute best price I can get on organic diced tomatoes is from Costco. The most affordable organic, grass-fed beef I can get is from Aldi. The most affordable produce with more organic options than many other stores I can get is from Sam's. I basically have what I need to buy from where memorized by this point, so I write out what I need to grab from where based on all my meals that month. 
At the beginning of the month, I do a bigger shopping haul. I go to Aldi for a good majority of my dried goods. I get nuts, couscous, some dairy items, dried beans, some canned goods, spices, etc. from Aldi. I try to list out all of these types of things since the shelf life is going to be longer than milk or produce. I also go to Walmart at this same time (luckily for me, they are right next to each other!) and get a few things I can't get other places or that are better quality/price than what I can get from Aldi. I will buy produce and milk, eggs, etc. on this day only for the week. 

Then, the next 3 weeks I just do a much smaller trip to Sam's to get perishable things. Milk if we need it, produce, possibly some meat, etc. My cart is typically filled 80+% with produce at Sam's as I have already gotten most of the other things I need to make my meals during the first week. I typically buy meat in bulk, either because I'm buying it from Sam's or Costco, or because it was on sale, and then I freeze it, so we almost always have meat in the freezer, which I take into account during my menu planning. 
I have set up a small bookshelf in our storage room in the basement for some dried items so I don't have to store a month's worth of food in my small pantry. This has worked out awesome for us! If I need something for dinner, I either grab it when I'm down there doing laundry, or ask one of the girls to run down and grab it for me (like canned tomatoes or things like that). It is nice to have everything on hand and this has actually helped out a lot with not being so tempted to eat out, since I always have what I need on hand! It also has worked out great because we go through SO much produce. My kids crush Sam's/Costco sized bags of apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, etc. every week so there is no way I could buy produce for an entire month at one time. This way, I only have to make a quick trip to one store on a weekly basis and do the one bigger trip once a month which isn't terrible at all. Our Costco is about 30-40 minutes away and we actually just recently became members so our plan is to go there pretty infrequently and stock up on what we need for awhile. We did the math on a lot of their organic options and it was way cheaper than anywhere else and way more than made up for the cost of the membership, so we felt like it was worth it since we get down that way semi often anyway.
So that's pretty much how I menu plan and grocery shop for the month! I do miss the days of just going shopping at Aldi or Walmart, BUT I definitely am able to get better quality on some things elsewhere and sometimes for better prices, depending what it is. How far out do you menu plan, and how many different stores do you shop at?! Tomorrow I will share my menu for the month of May and what I bought on my big shopping trip this month! 
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