Archive for March, 2012

The Foster Stash

Sharon March 21st, 2012

A number of fellow foster parents have asked me about this, and so my motives for writing this are somewhat multi-purpose.  The first is to give other foster parents who might be interested a look at my stash and a permanent URL to direct them to when potential foster parents want to know what they need to do this.

The second is to point out to other people who might expect extended family arrivals in a crisis (environmental, economic, etc..) what I’ve learned about what I need.  Although preparing to receive foster chidren isn’t exactly the same as prepping for your Mother, your cousin Cece, her two kids and their dogs to arrive at your house, there are some real similarities sometimes, so my hope is that this can be useful to you.

In a way, taking foster placements is excellent preparation for preparing to receive family (biological or chosen, as always) in a crisis.  Most of all, the arrivees are TRAUMATIZED – that is, it isn’t like receiving guests.  Doing this has made me step up some parts of my preparation, recognizing that some adaptations that people under ordinary circumstances would be able to make simply are too hard for people who had undergone trauma.   Comfort and familiarity count for a lot.

When we began to get ready to take foster placements, I took the general advice not to gather too much stuff – I made a quick trip to Goodwill and figured that what I mostly needed was a change of clothes for any kids we got and some PJs.  I bought a few things for summer (it was June at the time), mostly girl stuff (I have plenty of boy clothes as you can imagine), a can of infant formula, etc… I looked at our age range (0-9) and thought about how big my 9 year old was, and figured “ok, I can use him as a model, kids won’t be bigger than size 10…” and figured I was done.  Then we had some actual placements and realized that what we had was woefully inadequate for the life we actually lead..

This information will probably be most useful to you if you either would prefer to have a signficant stash for some reason (ie, you enjoy organizing this stuff) or if you have some of the same criteria we have.  They are:

1. We live out in the boonies at a distance from major shopping.

2. Due to busy work and family schedules, we often have only a few days per week on which we can get out and run errands.  Because we take emergency placements at odd hours, we can’t have to cancel everything/miss work every time we get a placement.

3. We only have one family vehicle and sometimes it is in use and away from the farm all day.

4. We take large sibling groups – we’ve had up to six foster children at a time.

5. My state prescribes obligations like doctors appointments within 48 hours and often immediate visitation that can take up a lot of time, particularly for large groups of children – that is, the first couple of business days after a placement can be mostly spent meeting state requirements, not shopping.

6. I already have a bunch of kids, so dragging everyone to Target or Goodwill at 6pm immediately after they arrive is not my idea of a good time. Neither is staying home alone with 9 children, half traumatized and newly arrived, while Eric goes to Target.

7. We have at least one day per week when we do not engage in commerce for reasons of religion/principle and we prefer not to violate that for foster placements.

8. We take older children who have strong feelings about their situation that sometimes require accomodation – when you’ve just lost everything, liking the PJs you have to put on or the food put in front of you or that there be a suitcase for your stuff is really important.  If,  however, you mostly take very young children you might have less adjusting to tastes.

9. We already had to make space for a stash of many things anyway, both because of bulk buying and pantry cooking and also because we have four boys who go through clothes – so I already had the basic infrastructure in place to expand.

All of which simply adds up to mean that if you plan to take one baby only in planned pre-adoptive placements and you live 10 minutes from shopping, this probably isn’t something you need to do – get a couple of onesies and a can of formula and you’ll be fine.  If at least two or three of those criteria apply to you, you might want to think about getting more serious about stashing.

When we have children arrive on a Thursday night or Friday (which has happened more than once), we often can’t get everyone out shopping until Tuesday.  For five children, that’s five nights of PJS for each kid, a winter coat or light jacket (most kids arrive with little or seasonally inappropriate clothing – think shorts in late November, a light jacket in January, or just a t-shirt and diaper in winter) depending on season, possibly hats and mittens, and at least five days clothing per kid – more if the kids are not toilet trained, have accidents do to stress or arrive in upstate NY in mud season ;-) .  At least one or two outfits have to be nice quality for visitation and trips to synagogue.    You begin to grasp the scale of this – and there’s more. I’ve never, for example, had children arrive wearing appropriately fitting shoes.  We also do not own a dryer, and have a large household so laundry turn-around time isn’t that fast.

When I first started, I assumed that my large stash of boy’s clothes would be fine to use on girls for a few days.  I underestimated how upsetting this would be for some of the girls in our care.  for example, I didn’t bother with girl baby clothes at all, figuring that babies don’t have opinions – and they don’t.   But their big sisters and brothers often do feel quite strongly about what the baby wears, or what they wear.  When kids come into foster care they’ve lost home and parents, often been hurt and traumatized in many ways – it isn’t hard to push them over the edge.  Where you can say to your own comparatively healthy kids “suck it up” ;-) , you just can’t do that to kids in crisis – so I have come to feel that having attractive, gender appropriate clothing for kids who care about this (not all, but some) is a big issue, balm for stressed out little souls.  It is also very helpful in enticing children scared of the tub (because sometimes bad stuff happens in tubs and sometimes kids haven’t been in one often) to take a bath.  Sometimes a pretty dress or a pair of PJs with a favorite Disney character on it can help ease the way into the tub.

Along with meeting the children’s needs, we also had limited funds to spend on this project – and a need for ongoing supplies.  Because we take short-term placements that often go home, to extended family or another foster family they have a prior relationship with, we need to be able to give them things.  Not only is it not fair to other foster parents or family for the kids to arrive with nothing and the whole burden be cast on them, for kids old enough to understand, it is humiliating to arrive with a few ratty, inappropriate things in a garbage bag.  Sometimes family is also very, very poor, and if we don’t send them home with a winter coat or shoes that fit, a hat and mittens, they just won’t have them.  So the things in my stash rotate a lot (actually things have been very quiet here of late, so “a lot” is relative -but we’ve also had busy stretches) – they get given to children and we have to replace them – cheaply.

The state does subsidize some of this stuff, but in New York, some of it is reimburseable, while others are compensated over time.  So, for example, children in my care get about a buck a day (depending on age) as a clothing allowance – but of course, we have to buy them clothing at the beginning, and it would be months before that money was paid back normally.  If they leave in five days, we get $5 for all their clothing – but often send them with much, much more.  Formula is reimburseable until we get WIC for them, but most other items are not – they are part of the board payments (about $15 per day) – again, which is fine, except that costs are  heavily front-loaded to the first couple of weeks, so in short-term placements, they rarely get reimbursed totally.  This is fine, and something we don’t begrudge – but in order to do it, and keep sending kids off fully outfitted with basic needs met, we have to do it cheaply.

We also don’t benefit from some subsidies.  Technically children receive WIC payment to help with food costs, but in practical terms, I have never used them because the quality of most of the food covered by WIC is so low – no organic or locally produced milk, only the cheapest, only sugary peanut butters, etc…  So we don’t get that subsidy, and simply pay out of pocket for much more expensive, higher quality food for them.  My estimate is that half of the daily subsidy gets spent on meeting their food needs because a decent diet is so fundamental to helping them get better.

Sometimes the county will reimburse for some things, but only after placement – but I need them right at the moment of placement. The critical issues here for us so far are formula and car seats.  In both cases, the county will pay for them – but only for children already in our care.  But given that one of our first placements involved an almost immediate trip to the ER, not having a suitable carseat is not ok – because we can’t take them to the ER in anything but an ambulance.  In some cases we’ve had to pick the kids up, and we need appropriate car and booster seats for that.  The same issues apply to formula – kids arrive without it, and they need to eat now, but the county will only reimburse for purchases after the kids are in our care.  So we simply have had to eat a few of these expenses to make things work.  You can get used car and booster seats, but be VERY careful with the carseats and ask about any accidents since they can affect their safety even if not visibly.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have lots of supportive friends, families and blog readers help us out – from my teenage friend who gave us her childhood dollhouse to my friends who pass on their daughter’s clothing, to readers who have sent cloth diapers, bedding and clothes, to my family, we’ve been blessed.  My mother takes it on herself to buy some new clothing for each placement so they will have a dressy outfit to go to visits with, an scours her local used clothing store for me to fill in gaps.  My youngest sister passes on clothing from her three daughters and friends with daughters.  My MIL has helped stock us with all the little things that have to be bought new at each placement – underpants, socks, bottles and pacifiers…  We’ve been so lucky to have so much support.  Given the lack of placements and all the help we’ve received, we’re in a really good place right now, even able to share with other foster parents.

Some of the items on the below list may not go with your sense of “Sharon sustainability nut” – some of them are driven by explicit legal or implicit real requirements of fostering.  For example, I legally can cloth diaper, but I must send disposable diapers for visits with family – which means keeping disposables on hand.  I can’t feed my own milk even if I pasteurize it, so I must buy milk.  The expectation is that kids will be clean whenever they are seen by social workers and family – so, for example, I can’t just send the in their farm play clothes the way I might take my own kids out in the world.  Moreover, unfortunately, it doesn’t make economic or social sense for me to buy a high-quality wooden-handled toothbrush with replaceable bristles for kids who are going with their grandparents in a few days – nor would the grandparents thank me for giving them something unfamiliar instead of a regular old plastic toothbrush.  Ultimately, there are some compromises we make to improve the basic situation for the kids – and that’s ok with me.  I’m trying hard not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good we can do.

So, after all that lead in, here’s what we stock and how we get it:

- Clothing in every size for boys from preemie to men’s medium.  This is something I didn’t buy specifically for foster care – my kids have worn all these sizes, and I just didn’t give it all away.  Some sizes I did need to stock up on, particularly boys clothes 18mos to 4T, most of which I’d passed on already, but I got some of what I gave away back and have received more.  The rest is just part of the stash I’ve always kept for my four sons, buying several sizes ahead when I get good deals.  I keep one big bin of clothing for all sizes I currently have need of or will have need of for my sons, one small box (standard cardboard) of all other sizes except baby stuff, where I keep less.

- Clothing for girls in every size from newborn to 16.  I originally kept a much smaller stash of girl’s clothes, and stopped at size ten, since I figured our oldest son at age 8 had only been in a 10, and he was tall.  I then had a placement involving 5 kids, 13, 12, 8, 6 and 8 months and discovered my error.  The 8 year old was wearing size 14 already, the 13 year old could wear some of my clothes.  Kids come in lots of different sizes, I was reminded.  We don’t normally take kids that old, but just in case we do again, I upped my sizes considerably.

(In a total digression, I’ve found myself giving away a much higher percentage of the things I get for free for girls than boys – while most of my close friends and readers seem to have similar parameters to me, a few of the bags I’ve gotten have included clothing that straight-out appalls me.  With boys I generally only get rid of the truly militaristic or violent image clothing, or those things with advertising on them, there’s just a lot more girl’s clothing out there that I wouldn’t let a child of mine (however short-term) wear for any sum.  You probably know what I mean – a recent bag included, among other things, short-shorts with the word “Cutie-Pie” or with advertising across the butt.  Seriously?!?!  Those were umm…rehomed.)

How do I get so much clothing affordably?  There’s a lot of kids clothing out there – the first thing I recommend you do is ASK – tell everyone what you need. I’ve gotten so much wonderful clothing from friends and friends-of-friends, much of it just beautiful.  The rest I buy at yard sales and used clothing stores.  Because I’ve been doing this for 12 years for my sons, it isn’t that hard to build up a stash this way.

- Winter coats in most sizes, boy, girl and gender neutral.  All kids arrive inappropriately dressed in my experience either with too-small, too big, filthy or no winter clothing.  Or if they do have it, it may need significant cleaning that takes several days, and the kids can’t wait.  My stash comes from a mix of kind friends and readers, family and my sons’ own things.

- Shoes.  I haven’t officially stocked up beyond what I always kept for my kids (we do pass down good quality shoes in my family, which btw, the American Academy of Podiatrists says is fine, as long as the shoes aren’t terribly worn), but I’ve always kept a fair number of shoes because my kids can surprise me by growing fast, and at some times of year might need several pairs as others go in the wash.  When shoes have come in with the various bags of clothing, I’ve added them.   Nice girls’ dress shoes were particularly welcome since a friend gave us a large stash of dresses of various sizes, and most of the little girls I have had have loved dressing up.

- Hats and mittens – I didn’t buy a lot of extra here, and I don’t feel an immediate strong need to worry about gender – my kids often have red or green hats and mittens anyway, but I did use up some pink and purple yarn I had lying around from another project making a few hats and mittens, and have tried to keep enough to give away.  Kids never have these.  Now that winter is winding down, I’ll knit some more for next year’s stash.

- Underpants and socks – these need to be new (at least in our county, although I doubt they check), and my wonderful MIL has kept me stocked, so that I can send a whole package home with kids and not worry.  If you don’t have my wonderful MIL helping you ;-) , I would look for those with minor imperfections sold more cheaply.  I also keep some tights around for girls winter wear – got ‘em cheap on sale.

- Diapers, pull-ups and goodnites.  I have pretty much every conceivable size of diaper and pull-up out there.  Most I bought new with coupons from the diaper sites (often very large coupons).  Some I got for free from parents who kids had toilet trained recently – half a pack will get me through a good bit.  My oldest, disabled son wears Goodnites to sleep anyway, so we already had those.  If you are going to only have a few sizes, I’d go with newborn (size 1 will not fit most really small babies, and you’ll have a mess, so if you might get a brand-new or preemie child have these on hand), 1, 3, and then a couple of sizes of pull-ups to get through a few days.  I also keep baby wipes around for bringing to visits, even though I use cloth at home.

Thanks to two kind readers and what little survived four boys ;-) , I also have a good stash now of cloth diapers and plastic pants.  These are primary for us – and awesome.  Cloth diapers keep getting better and better.  I also have plenty of five gallon buckets to use as a diaper pail (make sure they have a tight-fitting lid so that toddlers can’t fall in).

(Bedwetting is absolutely normal in these situations, even more the norm than not.  Kids first of all regress under stress, second of all, accidents are just a normal consequence of extreme trauma, and kids may be afraid to get up in the night or confused about where the bathroom is or have many other issues.  I think some larger pull-ups are great for older kids who have ongoing bedwetting issues, but I wouldn’t put kids in pull-ups all the time unless they say they were using them before immediately – it may just be stress and a new place.  But having diapers and pull-ups, even for kids older than you would have anticipated needing these things is a good idea.

The more you can do to make bedwetting not a huge deal, especially with older kids that may have been punished for it or who may be humiliated, the better everyone is.  I have a friend who takes only teens, and recounted the story of a 15 year old girl who had an accident the first night in home and was terrified and thought she would be beaten for it.  One of the sibling groups in our home arrived having been treated VERY punitively for wetting the bed – and they were only 3 and 4 years.  Having the supplies on hand to get deal with it quickly and easily when it inevitably happens – changes of clothes or PJs, plenty of bedding, mattress covers and pads, and pull-ups or Goodnites can be a huge help for scared kids – once they see it isn’t a big deal for you, the situation often gets better.  Several of my biological children have wet the bed and we’ve gotten accustomed to it – I think parents respond most calmly when they have all the tools to just adapt, deal and get everyone back to bed quickly, while keeping kids as comfortable as possible.

I say this because bedwetting is famously a huge issue for foster parents – I didn’t understand initially why they kept harping on bedwetting (which has been part of my life for nigh-forever) as a big issue, until my mother, who was a social worker for DSS in MA for years observed that people often ask for kids to be removed from placements because they can’t deal with wetting – that it is a common “push people over the edge” issue.  I think it is frankly unacceptable to further traumatize a kid because they wet the bed, so it is really important that foster parents be set up to deal with it so that they don’t get overwhelmed.

- That brings us to bedding, and plenty of it – even the best protection sometimes gets leaked through.  First of all, mattress pads for all beds, even if you don’t think they will be slept on by kids of the bedwetting age.   Remember story about the 15 year old – losing your home and family is incredibly stressful for kids and it causes issues that wouldn’t come up in kids not in those situations.  Waterproof mattress protection, plenty of sheets, plenty of washable blankets (don’t use grandma’s heritage bedspread ;-) ), and pads that can go over the sheet are a great tool.  You can actually put sheets on a bed, put a soft mattress pad OVER those sheets and make it again, so that if the wetting is chronic, you can just strip off the bed and put the child immediately back into a made bed.  Just keep clean PJs out and the whole thing (except the wash) can be resolved in 3 minutes.  I would have at least 3 sets of sheets for each bed, summer and winter (if you want flannel).

- On the subject of beds, if you are going to take larger, multi-aged sibling groups, flexible arrangements are the key to making everyone fit.  Every state has different rules about how old opposite gender kids can be and still share a room, or whether babies can be in your room or not.  We’ve had to use as many as three bedrooms for a placement, and as few as one, even though they were four kids.  In NY porta-cribs are allowed for a couple of days or while travelling, but not as a permanent arrangement.  We have three single beds, a crib, a porta-crib and several double beds or futons so that we can adapt to a lot of different situations.  Again, ask around for things that people aren’t using – we got our bunk beds that way (not legal in every state) and a toddler bed as well. Do check the recall lists on anything for babies or young kids.

- Car seats.  We have to take kids to the doctor right away, we have to meet other needs, and we can’t risk not being able to drive a kid for medical care right away, so having these on hand is essential.  What we did was when we opened, we bought a car seat and paid full price for it, and we had several extra boosters (my own children’s old car seats were long since given away), and then we have purchased others as younger children have come into our care.  Car seats are expensive, especially the good quality ones that go to reasonably high weights, so this is a fairly large cost – but important.  I would not want to wait until the next day to have a carseat with a child that might need immediate medical care – on the other hand, I don’t mind using a safe but not perfect (ie, not the one I want in the long term in terms of weight and design – safety isn’t a compromise) car seat someone gave me until I can buy another.  I do see these for sale at yard sales, but wouldn’t buy carseats (as opposed to boosters) without talking to the owner extensively.  Do check recall lists before you use anything used as well.

- Stuffed animals.  I’ve never had a kid of any age who didn’t need something to cuddle when they came to my home.  I take used stuffed animals from my friends with college-age kids (who often have a big pile that they’ve abandoned) and from other friends cleaning out. Kohls also sells large, high quality stuffed animals for $5 as part of a charitable fundraising project, and I’ve bought those twice.  My kids also shared some of theirs.  Soft and snuggly are the watchwords here.  Make sure everyone gets their own and all are different so there’s no fighting.

- Formula, both dairy and soy.  You never know what a baby is on already, and babies can’t wait for food.  If you sign up with the major formula companies, they will send you, besides a lot of advertising designed to gently discourage you from nursing ;-P, free cans of formula.  This is well worth it despite the propaganda, since even if you can re-lactate, it is not legal or supported in my state (some few states have programs for supporting foster-breastfeeding, sadly NY is not one of them).  Even if you live in a state that supports foster-nursing, the majority of babies probably will have been started on formula and may not be able to switch.

- Bottles and pacifiers.  I have a couple of different kinds of bottles and nipples, and a few packages of pacifiers.  Most babies we’ve gotten use pacifiers, and you do not want to take away ANY source of comfort for a little person in tough times.  You can get these cheaply if you save coupons or get friends to do it.

- Hair supplies.  Besides the regular stuff for any kid, two issues arise here.  First LICE – ugh.  One of our placements came badly infested with headlice, and most of them were too young to treat chemically (even if I’d wanted to, which I didn’t, but the SW wanted me to do so).  I keep tea-tree oil shampoo, tea tree oil (for dilution and combing through hair) and a high-quality metal nit comb as part of my stash, and all kids heads are checked in the first 24 hours (another reason to have plenty of bedding on hand).  If there are lice you need to deal with that right away.   This is very, very common and lice are just part of life – but being able to deal with them lowers the stress.  Second, African American, African and biracial hair and skin are very different than white hair and skin, and the appropriate tools to oil and braid hair for both boys and girls are important – the AA community feels very strongly about hair care for their kids and judges foster parents on it.  We have a small stash of decorative hair thingies for kids that I bought, plus rat-tailed combs, oils and products suitable.  If you don’t know much about this, this site is a great resource – but all non-AA foster parents need to know what they are doing so that children don’t become uncomfortable and suffer from our ignorance.

- Other hygiene items – toothbrushes, brushes and combs for each kid (especially don’t want them sharing if there are lice), skin oils and lotions, baby supplies, hair doodles etc… You can ask friends who are coupon queens to save coupons for many of these products or buy some in dollar stores.

- Familiar foods (which mostly means processed foods).  Most kids who come into care won’t have had much exposure to fresh foods – and dietary changes in the midst of trauma are tough.  We are asking kids to a adapt a LOT – and it is reasonable for us to expect to go part way.  Some kids have eating issues and are very underweight, and also need food that they will eat more than anything upfront.  We haven’t had much trouble adapting a majority of their diets to healthy stuff – but treats and familiarity go a long way to help kids settle in.  So we keep animal crackers, lollipops and some other familiar treats around so that kids don’t have to go all the way on the first day – time enough to work on that stuff.  I also keep some healthy but familiar snacks around to send home with children so that they get enough food for a bit at home – sadly that can be an issue.

I also keep children’s multivitamins and vitamin D supplements (the latter especially during winter).  Most kids  have had appalling nutrition and probably could use these – it can’t hurt.

- Baby food.  You don’t really need this, but it can be very convenient in the chaos of the first few days to just be able to take a jar of high-quality organic baby food and put it in a diaper bag.  Sometimes babies with reflux or failure to thrive may be prescribed to have rice cereal added to their formula to thicken it as well – having it on hand for a baby who has this recommendation is convenient.  I keep a few jars of baby food and a package of rice cereal, and again, it can be good to send home to parents who couldn’t afford this or don’t really know how to feed babies appropriately.

Basic kid medical supplies – infant tylenol, band aids, benedryl diaper cream, etc…  if you don’t already keep this stuff.  Kids may arrive with injuries that haven’t been treated or health problems like ear infections, etc… Medical neglect (the inability to take care of a kid’s medical needs) is a very common reason for removal.

Baby sling: Newborns who are drug exposed or premature particularly need a lot of holding and a lot of body contact.  There are a lot of kinds of slings and carriers and you may eventually want something different, but simply being able to get through the first couple of days with the baby up against your body will improve your sleep, the baby’s sleep and everyone’s outlook a lot.

- Toys and books.  You don’t have to go overboard on this, but if you don’t have kids, I would recommend having some of this stuff on hand.  We had tons, of course, because we have kids, but found that we really needed some dolls and a dollhouse, particularly dolls of color, since all of our placements have been non-white (AA, biracial or of Indian subcontinental descent).  This is partly, of course, because the children need toys that look like them, but also because you may have to act out complex narratives with pre-verbal or kids with speech delays – and trying to explain with a white fisher price character and a toy castle that they are going to live with their grandmother just doesn’t work – ask me how I know.

Ask around, but you may have to outright buy new dolls that are not white – these just don’t show up that much at yard sales around here – even in diverse neighborhoods.  Fisher price makes an AA doll family (dollhouse dolls with bendable bodies, not “little people” including Mom, Dad, babies in carriers and sister and brother, and there are lots of nice, high quality non-white baby and dress-up dolls out there.  We bought the full fisher price set and a “journey girl” doll (attractive much cheaper American Girl knock off) to add to a few other dolls we already had, and have never regretted the money spent on these.  I also really like “groovy girls” which are soft dolls of ambiguous ethnicity.  You can often get good dolls on ebay or ask others for their pass ons.

For other toys – classic and flexible is what you want – blocks, stacking rings, board games, balls, legos, a toy farm, puzzles – that’s 99% of what gets used in my house no matter how many kids are there.  Have a few chewable baby toys as well – these are easy to get used from friends.  A good set of blocks can be pricey, but you may find them at yard sales.  I often find large boxes of legos that way.  Ask around.

There are some specific books you may find you want if you are going to take foster children, designed to help kids deal with foster care and other issues.  _Maybe Days_ is by far the best of the books for kids 4+ to help them understand what foster care is.  _Murphy’s Three Homes_ can help out the younger set, from 2 and up.  _A Terrible Thing Happened_ is good for helping kids understand their feelings when they are traumatized by violence.  I like _The Surprise Family_ (about a boy who adopts a hen who then raises a clutch of ducklings) for talking about how families can adapt to change “the boy was not the mother the chick had expected, but she loved him anyway.”  _Gregory the Terrible Eater_ is great for helping kids talk about food issues.  For older kids _Understood Betsy_, _Bud, Not Buddy_ _The Ocean Within_ and _The Great Gilly Hopkins_ are really good books that deal with loss of a family, foster care and trauma.  Most of these (except a couple of the older kid books) may not be found at yardsales, but otherwise you can just choose cheap sources of classic children’s books, with an emphasis on diverse images.  BTW, M. and several other foster kids in our home have loved _The Neighborhood Mother Goose_ and _The Neighborhood Songbook_ by Nina Crews, both taking classic songs and poems and placing them in familiar, urban and diverse settings – the kids loved them.

I try and buy cheap duplicate children’s books and nice toys for sending home with kids – again, often there isn’t anything in their new or old homes – and they may not have much experience of age appropriate toys or being read to.  Giving the tools for those things is really important.

- Suitcases, backpacks and bags.  Kids arrive with nothing – or their stuff in garbage bags.  That’s egregiously humiliating and sends the message that they are worthless too.  With all this stuff going home with them, it is important it goes back in a bag that says “this is my stuff and it matters” not a garbage bag or a cardboard box.  We have been able to use suitcases left over from Eric’s grandparents for this, and of course bags are common thrift shop and garage sale finds – a stash is worth having.

Ok, that’s a lot of stuff, I know – but it has made my fostering so much easier and so much more relaxing.  The lesson for those of you not interested in fostering – that taking in those who are traumatized can be more complicated than we perhaps thought.

Edited to add: I’ve had a couple of questions from people about things that AREN’T on this list – for example, strollers and other baby equipment.  My feeling is that if you have a crib and a carseat, clothes and food, everything else is gravy – the easiest way to bathe a baby is to get in the tub yourself and hold the baby there with someone helping you.  A stroller is great, but for a few days you can carry a baby around.   Also, different people have different needs – someone who really feels that a stroller is a great aid from moment one will probably want one.  My observation is that with babies, people usually have too much stuff (I was not excluded from this).  I do actually have a stroller lying around from previous kids, but I have yet to take it out, despite the fact that we’ve had several babies and quite a number of toddlers.

Sharon

Independence Days Update: Greening

Sharon March 20th, 2012

I’ve already written a bunch of rhapsodic posts about spring on the other blog, simply because spring does that to me.  Get some peepers calling and warm sunshine on me and can’t help getting all Keatsean on you folks ;-) .  So I’ll try and restrain myself now and just say – hey, it is SPRING!!!!!  Yeah it is a month early and a little scary, but hey, SPRING!!!!

Busy time right now – getting the barns cleaned from winter is taking up a lot of time – we’ve  had a fair bit of rain and had to wait for some of the mud to dry up to haul barn cleaning stuff where we need it.  The good news is that a lot of compost is a very happy thing.

The weekend was spent celebrating Eli’s twelfth birthday – it was glorious and he really had a great time, mostly due to the warm weather – warm enough that the kids could swarm all over the creek.  All that time out in the sunshine watching kids play (including my visiting niece) may not have been productive, but boy was it nice.

Lots of seed starting going on right now, taking advantage of the warm weather to get things out to a good start – but I took the covers completely off my low hoops, figuring that I was much more likely to fry things than to get any advantage at night for this week.  Next week we go back to cooler weather.

Eleven baby bunnies this week, the first setting of chicks should hatch soon and all in all, new life coming apace.  Mina is due in mid-April, the rest of the does begin kidding in early May.

Plant something: Tomatoes, Huckleberries, Tomatillos, Ground Cherries, Marigolds, Calendula, Malva, Chamomile, Bok Choy, Cilantro, Dill, Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Celeriac, Root Parsley, Parsley, Sage, Geranium Cuttings, Lots of Lettuce, Basils, Mizuna, Arugula, Spinach, Peas, Fava Beans.

Harvest Something: Milk, Eggs, Lemon Verbena and Geranium cuttings, parsnips.

Preserve Something: Not a thing

Waste Not: Worked on cleaning out the garage, accepted six bags of summery girl’s clothes for the foster kid stash, kept most of it, passed some of it on.

Want Not: Ordered bread flour, oatmeal, pasta and beans in bulk.  Sold beef to my neighbors.

Eat the Food: Lots of salads of early greens and anything involving eggs – we are now egged for the forseeable future.  Time to start selling them again on a larger scale!

Build Community Food Systems: Volunteered on a new community garden project.

Skill Up: Working on a braided rag rug that won’t look stupid.

How about you?

Sharon

Where is Your Food Coming From? Bullseye Evaluation

Sharon March 15th, 2012

It has been a few years since I’ve done a really close examination of how much of our food we’re producing/getting locally/getting from elsewhere.  In that time, some things have changed at our place – some of our fruit trees have begun producing, we’ve gotten more and different livestock, we’ve built relationships with some new sources.  On the other hand, foster children have meant we are required to provide some purchased milk and other items we didn’t buy previously, and we also have been the beneficiaries of a lot of things given to us by our dumpster-diving buddy.

I think it is time for me to sit down and figure out what we’re eating and where it is coming from in a consistent way, and I’d like to invite others to do so too.   Many years ago, Aaron Newton and I imagined “The Bullseye Diet” as a revision of the then-popular “100 Mile Diet” to help people think about how to bring the local into their diets – you start with the 50 yard diet (from your back steps or your kitchen garden) and move out from there.  The goal is to get most of your food from the inner rings – and to rely on the outer as much as possible for luxury items, rather than things you really depend on.

Different people in different places will have very different abilities to do this – and that’s fine, this isn’t a competition.  What it is is a chance for us all to compare notes on how much food we can produce on our own properties and how much we can forage and buy from nearby – and where exactly it is coming from.  By pulling together regional information and how big our personal land bases are, we can get a sense of what, say, urbanites in Pheonix or suburban dwellers outside Sheboygan can grow, and what an emergent local food culture really looks like.

I’d like to invite you to join me, starting April 1, in keeping track of how much you are producing, and where the food you aren’t producing is coming from.  Over the course of a year, with monthly self-analysis, we’ll take a look at what we local eaters are actually eating, where we’re getting it, what we can change and what needs work.  We know that the local food movement has made enormous progress over the last few years, but how much in any given region is hard to quantify, and few regions have full local food evaluations.  This isn’t that – but it is a start at collecting experiences.

It shouldn’t be too onerous to track – most of us can quickly note where our meals are coming from – and again, this is not about competing. Instead, we need to think about what would happen if we couldn’t buy everything we wanted – and  tbe first steps in that are taking a good hard look at what we are really eating.  But not just a hard look – this is a chance to look with pride and joy at all we’ve accomplished both personally and as communities.  It is a chance to show off what we’re eating, and the delicious, local meals we’re producing.  To ask ourselves about substitutes for things we buy from far away and to share our collective wisdom at finding new resources and new ways to include more vibrant local food in our diets.

Anyone in?

Sharon

Spring Projects and Garden Plans

Sharon March 15th, 2012

We’re still putting together what our big projects will be, within the usual limits of money, time and chaos ;-) , but we’ve definitely got the perimeter fencing of the big upper field on the list (to expand our ability to rotationally graze it), more hugelkultur beds and some other ideas floating around.  I want to take a quilting class as my 40th birthday present, since my previous quilting exercises have been ummm..kind of primitive (mostly involving large blocks, denim and old flannel ;-) , and I’m working on expanding into some new perennial edibles.

What’s on your spring plan list?

Sharon

Independence Days Update: Fish or Cut Bait

Sharon March 5th, 2012

Sorry I’ve been so dilatory on the ID updates – between an elbow injury and some upper respiratory plague, I’m way behind on a bunch of things.  Add in the fact that the coming of March makes it necessary to make some decisions I’ve been putting off, and I feel that the last few weeks have been a time of hesitation rather than progress.  The good thing is that I’ve been here before – I know that there are times when things move as slow as molasses and times when they speed ahead, but not being the patient sort, I’d still prefer universal forwardness an it were possible.

The big decision facing us is one that I never really anticipated – we were told that there was a significant need for foster parents in our area, and particularly for foster parents to take larger sibling groups, and assumed that our home would be full and busy.  At times this year it has been, but we’ve had no placements longer than a month, and none at all for the last two months, which leaves us wondering whether our county really needs us.

First, it leaves us wondering whether we should remain with our county or switch to an agency, or whether we should start seeking out children legally free for adoption from other places – so that’s one part of this.  Second, because we don’t have a stable placement situation, I’m not sure what new projects to take on for spring – three to five more kids are likely to cut into my time for new business projects, and I’d anticipated this might be a quiet year while our family adjusted, but given the absence of any kids, it isn’t clear where to go next – lots of decisions to make.

As the world reawakens, I’m also tense with anticipation of finding out for real what the long term garden damage caused by the flooding last year was – I haven’t made any commitments to selling perennial plants this year because I honestly don’t have the faintest idea what survived or will come back.  The total lack of snowcover (until last week) is also an issue – ironically, warmer winters are actually probably harder on my plants in many ways that our normal ones are.  Usually we can count on fairly consistent snow cover to provide insulation for perennials from bitterly cold temps – but not this year.  We only had a few short periods of really bitter cold, but without any snow, the plants got the full brunt of it.  The extreme weather fluctuations are tough too – consider that tonight’s low is expected to be 2 degrees here – and by Thursday we’re anticipating a high of 65 degrees.  If the weather forecast is right (and when is it?) this is the last stretch of cold weather for weeks, though, and spring is on its way – which will reveal many truths about my garden.

Despite my being on tenterhooks in a lot of ways, we have done a few useful things.  The rabbits are bred for babies in a few weeks, and on Thursday will move back outside for the rest of the year (they very successfully spent the winter on the sun porch).  Does are being dried off in anticipation of spring kidding, and we think almost everyone is bred (we hope ;-) ).  Plants are proliferating on every windowsill and seeds are being sown at fairly regular intervals.   At this point the next big dream is getting the barns cleaned out!

Progress on many fronts has been limited, but at least there’s some, and I swear this is the last time I will be sick or hurt for the forseeable future, dammit – too much to do to have the creeping crud!

Plant something: Tomatoes, Basil, lettuce, bok choy, nasturtiums, sweet peas, malva, kale, parsley, celeriac

Harvest something: Milk, eggs, sap

Preserve something: Made some maple syrup

Waste Not: Nothing New

Want Not: Nothing New

Eat de food: I haven’t been eating all that much lately, honestly – no innovative cooking as I’ve been busy coughing up a lung.

Build Community Food Systems: Worked on a community garden plan for a friend

Skill up: Totally mastered sitting on my ass ;-) .

Well, you all are going to be way ahead of me this week!

Sharon