Foster Parenting

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Our Stories

Join Two Writing Teachers in sharing your Slice of Life stories. 

As we put up our Christmas tree this year, I couldn't help but think about all the other Christmases that have been celebrated in this house.  It's our first Christmas here, but another family had 55 years before us to hang stockings and put out milk and cookies for Santa. Did the family put their tree in front of the picture window like we did?  Did the kitchen fill with the scent of cookies baking in the oven?  Did children run around, excited for the upcoming visit from Santa?  The last few years left the house empty, so I can't help but think  she must be thrilled to be filled with people again celebrating this beautiful season.

The early morning quiet beckons me to sit in before the tree, remembering our own stories told by the ornaments hanging there. 

The ceramic gift box has been hanging on my tree for the last 32 years, but before that, it dangled from the branches of my grandparents' tree.  Each of the grandchildren had one and when we got married, the ornament came with us to our new homes. 

The Budapest ornament makes me smile.  One lazy Saturday morning this summer, I opened my Instagram feed to discover photos posted by our oldest daughter from Budapest.  "Is Molly in Budapest?" I asked my husband.  Neither of us were aware of her leaving the country.  I gave her a call and she answered the phone, "Oh my gosh!  I am so sorry!  I forgot to tell you that I am traveling this week for work." 

Each ornament on our tree tells a story.  And now that we've settled into our home, we begin to create new memories and stories that will be added to the history of this house.  I look forward to seeing where these stories will lead us.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Celebrating the Simple Things

Thank to Ruth Ayres for creating this space for our celebrations.  It's important to take time to celebrate even the smallest moments.

My heart is full tonight as I write.  Lights are twinkling, cookies are cooling on the racks waiting to be iced or drizzled, and the house is a total mess.  So many things to celebrate this week!

Final paper turned in!  I couldn't go to school without the support of my husband who keeps things sane around here.

Note left  by a little girl who was mad at me, but still wanted to help bake cookies.  Made me smile.
Keith and Destiny are building a cell phone microscope.  She is becoming a little scientist.  

One of my favorite traditions at Christmas.  Although I got a text from my son last night that the dog ate a dozen sugar cookies while we were gone.  Good thing I had made a double batch.

It's been a wonderful week of time with family, doing new things, and slowing down.  

Monday, November 27, 2017

#EnticingWriters Blog Tour

When I first heard that Ruth was writing a book about helping kids with traumatic backgrounds through writing, I was thrilled.  As many of my readers know, my husband and I opened our home and hearts to two young girls who have hard backgrounds.  Before the girls came into our lives, I thought that young children from similar backgrounds just needed someone to love them and everything would be fine.  As Ruth explains in the first part of her book, children’s brains are altered when they experience traumatic events in their lives.  Below is an image of two brains, one from a 3 year-old who received love and nourishment from the beginning of her life and one who has experienced extreme neglect.  The amygdala, which controls our emotions is enlarged in the child who has been neglected and traumatized.  The amygdala is where fear comes from and children who have trauma in their backgrounds live with fear every day of their lives, even when we perceive there is nothing to be afraid of.

Image from work of Dr. Bruce Perry

  As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think that all teachers, not just teachers of writing, should read this book. We all have hurting children in our classrooms, children who are hungry, fearful, and anxious.  I’d like to highlight some of the stories and quotes that spoke to me as both a teacher and a foster mom.

 Ruth helps us understand how children from hard backgrounds are impacted. She helps us know that children who appear to be willful and disobedient are likely reacting in fear.  We’ve all had those students who tell us that they don’t know what to write about or don’t have a pencil to write with and little writing gets done.  Like Ruth, I used to have kids leave a shoe by my desk if they needed to borrow a pencil. I wish I'd known then what I know now.  Children come to us giving us the best they can give with the resources they've got.  It's up to us to meet them where they are, because they may be doing their best to just keep safe.  We need to remember that "they aren't trying to cause problems; they are doing their best" (p. 21).  

In the second section of the book, Ruth cheers us on to be writers ourselves and reminds us of the importance of writing workshop.  On p. 61, she says, "...writing workshop is essential to education.  Not because every child should grow up to be a writer, but because we all must learn to communicate our stories, our beliefs, our knowledge in order to make the world a better place."  I believe with all my heart that we need to provide spaces for our children to tell their stories, especially the hard stories.  Sometimes it is only through writing that the stories can be told because they are too hard to say out loud. Our children need to feel empowered knowing that their voices matter.

Part 3, Moves to Entice Students to Write, is chock-full of ideas to help even our most reluctant writers put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  I love her "celebration mindset."  I recently shared a video clip with teachers in my building by Matt Glover.  In it, he was talking to parents about the subtle difference between nudging our young writers and pushing them.  He tells the story of his son going out on the dance floor and his wife teaching him to dance, one step at at time.  She acknowledged where he was as a dancer and she gently nudged him one dance move at a time, instead of pushing him by giving him all 15 steps at once. Ruth's philosophy is the same.  She reminds us, "Instead of focusing on the things students don't do well, consider the things they are almost doing as writers" (p. 82).  Oh, this is so true.  We all know what it's like to sit down with young writers.  There are a million things we could talk about with them.  But, we need to remember that our writers are children and they are going to write like children.  Their writing won't be perfect. If we help them pick out the gems, the things they are doing well and find one thing that they are almost doing, we can give them specific feedback that gives them that little nudge to move forward.

I hope this brief introduction to Ruth's book "entices" you to go out and get it. I've only touched on a small part of all the things I loved about this book.  My copy is dog-eared, underlined, highlighted and filled with notes.  I know that I will go back to it over and over again.  This is a book with heart.  It's so much more than a "how to teach" book.  The stories woven throughout are poignant and important.  Many of the stories made me chuckle, while others brought tears to my eyes. I could relate. We need to erase the stigma that comes with these mental health issues and move toward helping others understand what early trauma does to a child.

Thank you Ruth for this beautiful book.

In case you missed other stops on the blog tour, you can check them out below.  Thank you to Stenhouse who is giving away 2 free copies of Ruth's book.  Please leave a comment about this post by November 30, 2017 by 11:59 EST to enter.  Winners will be chosen by a random number generator.

Ruth is also offering free registration to her new course Enticing Writers Book Club if you purchase a copy by November 30th.  Just forward your receipt to for a free registration.  The course begins in January.

11/15 (W) Michelle Nero

11/17 (F) Leigh Anne Eck

11/18 (Sat) STENHOUSE FB LIVE at 1:30pm (CST) with Shawna Coppola and Stenhouse FB Page
11/20 (M) Mary Helen Gensch
11/22 (W) Jen Vincent
(November Newsletter -Write About​)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Celebrating Family

Thank you to Ruth for providing this space to share our celebrations.  We need to celebrate the small things in our lives.

My heart is overflowing.

Our house was filled with
Children, young and old,
And an important boyfriend.

Construction paper placemats
Two moms' sets of china
Hand-scrawled name tags
And clear plastic cups (because we ran out of glasses)
Lined the table.

Our house was filled with
Old stories
New stories were made.

My heart is overflowing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


I told myself I couldn't write.

I wanted to write, but instead, I shut down and closed up.  I was afraid of what would come out.  I was afraid that I might come undone in the messiness and uncertainty of our lives.

I forgot how reaching out and connecting opens our hearts to new possibilities.

I forgot the importance of laughing.

On Thursday, I boarded a plane to St. Louis to attend #NCTE17. 

Oh, how I had missed my friends.  While only able to stay for 2 days, I reconnected with old friends and made some new.  I listened to stories and calls to action.  I learned new ideas.  I bought some books.  Sparks of energy bubbled inside me.

The fog lifted.  I felt hope again. 

I woke up early, back in my own bed.  I knew what I write again. 

As I write in the quiet early morning, I am joined by a sleepy eight year-old.

"Julie, you're home," she whispers as her warm body curls into me. 

I invite her to write with me and she accepts.  My heart is filled with gratitude, contentment, and love.

Yes, there are many things to, friends, laughter, stories and reawakening.  Thank you to Ruth for creating this space to celebrate.  Thank you for enticing me to write again. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Once Upon a Time...A Slice of Life

"Once upon a time, there was a lady with curly hair.  She had two daughters that she loved a lot. Then she got a surprise. She got two more foster daughters who she loved a lot too."

"Hey, what about Zach?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah.  And she had a son she loved too.  But she was really glad when she got two more foster daughters."

We giggled at her bedtime story.  Destiny was curled up next to me under the covers pretending she was the mom.  Her impish face smiled up at me. 

"Now go to sleep."  She leaned over to kiss me good-night, wrapping her arms around me in a big, tight hug.  She skipped off to her bedroom for her own end-of-the-day good-night story with Keith.

Destiny's story warms my heart.  When I look at her, I know she feels safe.  She is growing.  She is happy.  She is loved.

While we don't know how her story is going to evolve,  we do know that we want to always be part of her story.

Tonight we baked cookies.   That's not a typical school night activity.  But sometimes, it's ok to veer from the normal and do something out of the ordinary.  Destiny's excitement made it all worthwhile. 

I end the evening with my own story.

Once upon a time, there was a lady with curly hair, and man with just a little hair.  They didn't know how much their hearts were going to grow.  Two little girls, a surprise they weren't expecting, brought joy, laughter, fear, uncertainty, and hope.  That lady and man were amazed at their resilience and in awe of their strength. 

And just like Destiny ended her story Friday night,  they were really glad that they got two more girls to love.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating this community to share our stories.  It's been a long time since I posted and it's nice to know that this space is always here. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Letting Go

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  I am grateful for this community who welcomes all.

This quote came to my email the other day.   I immediately knew I had to save it, because right now, it's the story of my life.

None of us can predict what our lives will be like from one day to the next.  I never dreamed that at this point in my life I would be parenting an 8 year old and a 12 year old.  I did not anticipate that we would no longer be able to leave for the weekend on a whim or enjoy quiet, leisurely evenings on the patio, just the two of us.

My life is not what I thought it would be.

My emotions flip-flop inside me as I fight against fear, frustration, and helplessness.  But even as these feelings bump up against each other, hope and joy push their way through.  I remember that because we have these 2 young girls, we are lucky enough to experience many things a second time around...

Baking with 2 helpers and scream/laugh when Miss Destiny turned the mixer on too high and flour erupted out of the bowl...

Watching this little lady check out books that she's chosen herself and then curling up in my lap to read while we waited for big sister to finish getting her books... 

Beginning our search for the best ice cream of 2017 with Annie and Lucas...

Heading to the zoo for an impromptu visit and seeing everything from their point of view...

Ending the evening with two young ones snuggled next to me knowing that another day has gone by and they've healed just a little bit more.

We don't know what the next day will bring and this life sure isn't what I expected it to be, but when I let go of what "should have been" and focus on all the goodness we are blessed to have, I have hope that this new way of life is going to work out for all of us. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Unknown Territory

Today I am joining Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesday.  I am so grateful for this community where others gather to share their stories.

Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be.” – Rita F. Pierson

I believe this quote with all my heart.  
I truly want to be the adult that doesn't give up, but sometimes I wonder if I can keep doing this.  

Raising children from hard backgrounds is not easy.  It's gut wrenching at times and more often than not, we have no idea if what we are doing is the right thing to do.  

Just when we think we've covered all the bases, something new crops up.  We are exhausted!  

Today was one of those days.


If we are exhausted, how must they feel?

Plucked out of their home and settled into ours.  

New rules,  new norms, wondering if it's safe to feel safe.  

They are walking on shaky ground.  I can only imagine that they must contemplate if  the adults in their lives will hold on and stay put.  They must question where their future lies.  What happens if they let their guard down too far?

It must be terrifying.  

And so tonight, as the rest of the house sleeps, I take a deep, calming breath.  I say a prayer for strength, wisdom and guidance.  I ground myself because this journey is big, way bigger than we ever imagined.  

My husband and I will hold each other up.  We will open our arms and draw in two little girls who need love and stability so badly.  We will look only at getting through one day at a time.

We will stay focused and remember our purpose.  Together, we will all be the best we can possibly be.  

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sweet Tea...My Secret Love Affair SOL #24

I am joining the Two Writing Teachers in the March Slice of Life Challenge (most days!).

I am an iced tea drinker.  There is always a pitcher in our refrigerator, no matter what time of year it is.  It's not unusual to see me with a McDonald's styrofoam cup in hand (or on my desk in my office) filled with unsweet tea.  Yes, unsweet tea.  I don't drink my calories.

That is until I come to the south.  I began the trip keeping true to my unsweet tea.  Everywhere we went, I ordered my tea the usual way...unsweet.  Then after a few days crossing the Georgia line, I relented...half unsweet, half sweet.  Oh, it was so good.  I kept to the half and half for two days and then this morning, I caved.

"I'll have the sweet tea," I told the waitress as she took my order today.  And the rest is history.  Every. single. meal.  Sweet Tea please.

I'll be heading home on Sunday. I'll hop back on the wagon then.  For now, I'll follow my heart and order that sweet tea.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Present Over Perfect SOL #22

I am joining The Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge.

I'm in the middle of reading Present Over Perfect:  Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist.  I'm not sure where I got the recommendation, but I'm glad I got it.  It's just what I need right now in my life.

After vacationing vicariously yesterday and taking a cue from my Present Over Perfect, I decided to close the books for today (ok...I did a little reading in the car) and join Keith and the girls for today's adventures.  Today we explored the natural side of Florida.  My sister introduced us to the St. John's River Cruise last year, and we knew we had to take the girls this year.  Keith's cousins joined us and we spent 2 lovely hours meandering down the St. John's River. We saw a myriad of birds, native Florida plants and lots of alligators.  Mama Alligator showed us her displeasure by hissing at us when we got a little too close.

Next was a trip to New Smyrna Beach, one of my favorite Florida beaches.  We soaked in the warm sun, played in the waves and had fun in the sand.  Destiny built her first sand castle with the help of Keith, who can never turn down the opportunity to build in the sand.  

We ended our day sun-kissed and happy.  Today I was present to the beauty of Florida and the company of some very special people.  It was a perfect day!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Vicarious Vacation SOL #21

I am joining The Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge.

My husband asked me what I was going to write about tonight.  You see, I spent the day sitting on my sister's sun porch working on transcribing an interview for my ethnography class.  I know that procrastination is a problem of mine and apparently, I've taken it to a new level.  Transcribing a 20 minute video took me about 5 hours and I have about 6 more videos to transcribe.  So, I've got some more sun porch sitting to do.  While I worked, Keith took the girls out for the day.  My transcription got interrupted by regular texts from them showing me all the fun they were having.  They had a lot more fun than I did.

Lunch at Planet Hollywood

Yes, they are still having fun!

Destiny, who is afraid of heights, wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride.  

Building and racing cars at Lego Land.  

I'm pretty sure their day was a lot more fun than mine.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Let Me Introduce You...SOL #20

I am joining Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge.  I fell off the wagon, but decided to forgive myself and get back on.

Today was one of those days that just make you smile.  It began bright and early when I opened the curtains to our Florida hotel room and coaxed  two sleeping girls out of bed to get their first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean.  I've been looking forward to this moment since we planned our Spring Break trip.  I wish I had recorded their voices as they both let out  a sigh of "Oh, that's so pretty," as they peeked out the window.

I'm sure the Floridians thought we were crazy as we trekked out to the beach in the 70 degree weather.  The girls were eager to get their feet in the water.  I warned them that it was chilly and they might not want to go all the way in.  How silly of me. There was no keeping them out.  I relish watching them just being kids, all their troubles forgotten.  They squealed with delight as the waves crashed over them.  They got up over and over again, only to get knocked back down.

As the day winds down, I am listening to the girls laugh with my sister and brother-in-law.  I knew they would all hit it off right away.  It's been a good day for introductions to new people and new things...Life is good.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Saying Good-Bye SOL #16

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers' March Slice of Life Challenge.  I am joining other bloggers and writing each day in March.

Last night was bittersweet.  Seated in a circle, some of us on the bare hardwood floors, other on the empty hearth, we ate our last meal together at our house.  With pizza on plates that we had propped on our laps, we shared our favorite memories of the house.

Keith:  Putting up the tire swing for the girls and watching them play

Autumn:  The first time she met Caroline when Annie brought her home

Destiny:  Camping out

Me:  Bringing Callie home

There are a million more memories I could write about.  The girls ended the evening by taking the dog outside, running through the yard and taking one more swing on the tire swing.  It was a good way to end the evening.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Pi Day Means Pie for the Day

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting the March Slice of Life Challenge.

3/14 is Pi Day, which means that the Johnsons had to go out for pie.  If you have to go out for pie, there's no better place than Der Dutchman.  And if you're tired and it's been a long day, you may as well go out for dinner too.  We sat in the Amish buggy, a first for the girls.  Their food always tastes better when you sit in the buggy.  It was a lovely evening which ended in pie for dessert.  I was in luck too...rhubarb pie is in season!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Third Time's a Charm SOL #13

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  I am joining other bloggers in writing every day of the month of March.

They say you'll know which house is yours the minute you walk in.  We found our house (again).  It's the third house we've put a bid on in the last 3 weeks, so I'm hoping that 3rd time's a charm.  It has everything I wanted..

  • 1960s era ranch
  • fireplace (and there's even a fireplace in the kitchen)
  • nice neighborhood where we can walk and the girls can ride their bikes
  • window to look out while I do dishes
  • backyard for a garden and a place for the dog to run
  • hardwood floors
We found it accidentally when we were actually looking at another house.  I'm glad we decided to drive through the neighborhood to see what else was around.  Fingers crossed that the owners will accept our offer.

Check it out!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Night Blues

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Molly, Zach and Annie always said they hated having a mom who was a teacher. I don't think they really hated it, and even if they did, it's worked out well for them as adults.
 A got a taste of it today. At 7:00 pm we discovered that her homework wasn't done. I am pretty sure both of us would have chosen to get into our pjs and dive into a good book, but we took the high road and got to work. I have to say I enjoyed reading her essay and talking to her about her thinking. It ended up being a nice evening after all.