Chores: Who Should Do Them? Yesterday, on our Facebook page, I shared a video from another blog. The video was about a mom who shared photos of her kid doing chores and the support/flack she received over it. In my mind I never knew such a simple subject could raise so much controversy but I should have guessed. It seems that the simple things always raise the most questions if not concern in both normal life and in the system.

Over the summer rent-a-dad and I took a fostering class titled “creating teachable moments”. At the time we registered for the class we didn’t realize how straight forward the class would be. I guess we thought there would be some big secret revealed to us because we never feel like we have all the answers.

The truth is we have more answers than we realize (and that is what scares us the most days!!). The biggest (answer/truth) is that we treat all kids in our house (care) as if they are our children. This includes the expectation that everyone will pitch in and help out.

Yes we expect foster children to do age appropriate chores.

It is a bit of a shock to us that not everyone does this. Treat fosters as their own, have real and realizable expectations, and you know assign chores.

I mean we don’t call all of the activities chores, especially when it is a life skill like expecting a three year old to be able to get dressed (put on a shirt and pair of pants). Cleaning up after yourself or putting your own dirty dishes in the sink aren’t chores either as they are apart of daily life. Knowing when to start with these expectations or chores depends on the child’s social cues or research on age appropriate chores.

I guess it is all about perspective. We each feel certain tasks are apart of daily life. Some tasks are just ingrained as you do them no questions asked while others are labeled as chores.

When we attended the DCS class the subject matter was exactly what the title said “teachable moments”. The class went over expectations of what children learn naturally and what they need to be taught, through daily life and time set aside specifically for teaching life skills. This included the idea of chores.

When the question arose of “Chores: who should do them?”, I was the one to quickly say “everyone”. I had a few questioning looks even when I explained that if my (eldest) nephew at the age of one could pick cat dishes up and put them in a dishwasher on a daily basis, helping me with my chores, then he was doing chores. Ergo a one year old could/should do chores.

When all the heads swung to look at the instructor she said “that’s exactly right”. She went on to say something I believe whole-heartedly in, that if we, as parents or mentors, don’t show our kids how to do things then who will?

The most recent generations are lacking basic everyday skills and we aren’t just talking about kids in care. We are talking about children, teenagers, and young adults from all walks of life not knowing basic things like how to do laundry, mow a lawn, where the spare tire in a vehicle is located (or how to find out) and more.

The school systems are not prepared to handle teaching these life skills so we, as their parents and mentors, have to. Once upon a time Home Ec (economics) taught teenagers the basics of life after high school like how to plan a meal from the budget side to the cooking side, how to handle a bank ledger, and how to change a diaper. When I was in high school I think we maybe learned how to cook two meals. I shudder to think what that class (if offered) teaches today. The point is probably even less.

So who has to pick up that slack? The parents, mentors… rest of society.

Chores: What to expect…

Like with most subjects everyone has an opinion. When in doubt do an internet search. There are many different sources from medical journals to family periodicals that have suggestions of what age appropriate chores and life skills.

One such source, Focus on the Family, even distinguishes between personal chores and family chores. The youngest they go is age 2.

In my opinion if a child shows interest in helping around the house and participating in activities you are doing then, when safe, involve them. It is not like I ever expected my eldest nephew, at the age of one, to pick up the pets dishes on his own or unsupervised. Every time he helped pick up the pets dishes it was because I was already doing them and he showed interest in helping.

Showing that interest to help allowed us to realize that he was ready to start learning about picking up his own toys. His brother and our foster daughter were exactly the same when they turned one. Each of them expressed interest in different tasks but the point is they showed interest and we acted upon that.

Now if the child shows no interest, which is rare, then I would suggest following guidelines from the internet and start working with the child the closer they get to the age of two with small tasks.

As far as older children coming into care, or perhaps nieces/nephews staying with you over the summer, start by asking what chores they were expected to handle at home. If the answer is none then start with a list of small expectations (putting dishes into the dishwasher) and work your way up to age appropriate ones (like sorting laundry and helping with folding).

Chores: The outcome…

After all, no matter the age, what we are all trying to do is raise children who are not afraid to tackle every day tasks, regardless of gender, and who feel confident in asking for/seeking help when they feel they are out of their depth. So that when they graduate high school we (parents/mentors) are just as confident as they are about taking care of themselves, at least in the most basic of ways.

To not aid our children in this way of growth (chores/basic life skills) is doing them a major disservice. I for one would rather cry because my children don’t “need” me any more then because they are permanently stuck with me taking care of them through their twenties and thirties.

Rainy Day – Any Day Fun


Arts, crafts, movies never watched but promised…. More than that it is time spent with mom and dad!!! Being stuck indoors can be pretty boring. As kids get older they will find activities to amuse themselves but when they are little they look to mom and dad to show them the way. Below are some of our most favorite indoor activities that make any day fun!

Ok I have to admit this post has been in the works for some time. Ever since my nephews entered our lives we have had more sick days in one flu season then the previous ten years. Even when our family is healthy we seem to have some horrible timing issues. Any healthy days during the flu season seem to coincide with bad weather from snow and ice to rainy day after rainy day come spring.

When the weather is nice and everyone is healthy we seem to be over booked with activities from doctor appointments to conventions. So outdoor time tends to be a “grab it when you can” type of event. Recently wildfires in our area have tested our list of fun indoor activities. Even with the wildfires we have been able to have some any day fun!

Admittedly a few of the activities I mention below are carry-overs from memories of a wonderful childhood. I am one of eight grandchildren on my mother’s side of the family. There were a lot of family gatherings when I was a small child. Not all gatherings took place on perfectly sunny and warm days. Then there were the times when only a few of us would be visiting my grandmother and still needed to be “entertained”.  As a child my favorite any day fun activities were #1 and #4. As an adult I kind of like all five.



Here are our Top Five Favorite Activities for a Rainy (Indoor) Day:

  1. Indoor Hide and Seek

Unless you treat your house like a museum indoor hide and seek is a great way to burn off some energy. You do not have to have a large house to enjoy this activity. Our home is a one story ranch style with an open floor plan. Even with an open floor plan there are plenty of closets and blind spots to create great hiding areas.

With our nieces and nephews being toddlers we do not play the traditional game of hide and seek. Generally the game starts with a “run by tickling” to get the kids pumped up to follow as one of us adults begins “running” around the house. Because we are still a little bit faster than them we can quickly dodge behind an open bedroom door, dart into a darkened bathroom or hide behind a dresser in the closet. When the kids catch up to us we let them look around for a moment before we “jump” out and they begin to chase us all over again.

This game generally can last five to twenty minutes depending on how much energy needs to be burned off. This game makes a good quick diversion and the kids love that we play along. When the game is over the kids are ready for a snack and potentially nap time.


  1. Sticker Mayhem

There are several ways to play sticker mayhem.

One way is like an indoor scavenger hunt. Generally I stuff stickers in fun shaped Easter eggs (you know the ones that aren’t actually shaped like Easter eggs but rather Darth Vader’s head or some other silly shape) and then hide those eggs around the house. Since I never use these “eggs” for Easter the kids don’t expect anything like candy to be found. By now they know that these shaped “eggs” will contain stickers of their favorite characters. Following the scavenger hunt the kids will sit down and look at their stickers. Each kid has their own fun shaped inexpensive notebook where they can then place their scavenger hunt finds within.

In recent months I have created a chore chart for my nephews. On busy chore days, I have gotten my nephews involved with the promise of specialty stickers for each completed chore. I keep extra special stickers just for these days. If my nephews do an amazing job their chore chart gets so loaded with stickers they start to layer them.


  1. Music Video Dance Off

Okay, this activity has actually evolved out of a guilty pleasure for us adults: Lip Sync Battle.

One evening while watching Lip Sync Battle, we noticed that our foster daughter would run into the room every time she heard LL Cool J talk. The following week she came into the room and began to dance when the music was on. Soon our youngest nephew was joining her. Then they started getting us involved in their dancing. Now we save up all of our Lip Sync Battle episodes for rainy/indoor days as they make great 30 minute breaks in an otherwise hum drum day.

When we run out of Lip Sync Battle episodes, Rent-a-Dad streams videos from Youtube. This way we get to be selective with the music content and the kids still have a blast dancing. They are so used to this activity now that they have their favorite music videos. “Let It Go” is one favorite, of course, but another happens to be “Hall of Fame” by the Script.


  1. Indoor Obstacle Course/Box Fort Bonanza

When life is boring and you can’t do activities outside it is fun for kids to bring the outside inside. A good way to do this is by turning an area of your house into a temporary obstacle course or a place to build a fort.

With a little imagination every day items can be used as part of an obstacle course. The most recent obstacle course I built with my nephews involved cat beds, kitchen chairs and a sheet. Building a fort is much the same. While my family built forts with old cardboard boxes, I have just as much fun building forts with blankets and chairs or even the dining room table and an old extra large sheet.

As a child, building forts in my grandmother’s basement was the best way to pass the time. It was also a great activity to make “teams” with when all eight of us cousins got together. Once forts were built we could have the adults do a judge them. Often we would have “fort wars” which involved capture the flag or even fake snowball fights with pillows or balled up pieces of paper.


  1. The Most Magical Place on the Internet… Youtube

A couple of Christmas’s back Rent-a-Dad asked for a Chromecast. At the time I didn’t really understand how useful that gift would be. For the first year I never paid much attention. Last year I asked if the kids could watch a Youtube video on his computer. Rent-a-Dad’s reply was “why not watch it on tv?” So he showed me how to stream videos from my cell phone. Since then Youtube videos have become a great way to add a little magic to an otherwise boring day.

The first few times I used the Chromecast to stream songs from Frozen. This way the kids could watch and sing along without having to watch the whole DVD over and over again. When the kids began to ask questions about our last Disney vacation, I wondered if there was a way to share the experience of a Disney vacation without having to leave our house.

Youtube had the answer. We started pulling up all kinds of parade and ride videos. The kids loved it! While watching a ride video we would “play along” by throwing our hands into the air and moving side to side. All of the parade videos fascinate the kids. They love telling us what their favorite character or float is. Event videos like the Frozen Musical at the Hyperion Theatre mean the kids can enjoy a show that I would be concerned to take them to at their age.

Over a year later and the kids still love watching Youtube videos of Disney attractions. Since we don’t watch these videos every day they still feel like an escape from everyday activities like a vacation is supposed to feel. The bonus is that kids know what rides they want to ride again when we are able to go back. We have even branched out to include videos of rides and parades from Universal Studios. One of my nephews can’t wait until he can go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I guess it is time to start saving our pennies!

Turning the Ordinary into the Extraordinary


extraordinaryLooking back at my childhood it feels like the stuff of well written stories. I went to museums, spent afternoons at the community pool, played outside for hours and enjoyed stargazing in the flatbed of a pick-up with my best friend. When I think of all the activities I did as a child I want very much to provide all of those extraordinary opportunities and more for the children in my life. But, I always feel I am falling behind.

With each reminiscent childhood memory posted on Facebook, I can tell how the parents I know hope to provide the same extraordinary adventures for their children. However… there is always a “but”. Our jobs get in the way. We don’t have the money. The time has gotten away from us. The weather on our free days is just horrible. Not to mention any health issues that may keep us from fantasized plans.

Whatever the reason, some of us feel like we are failing our children. The good news is that most parents feel this way at one point or another. We just can’t keep beating ourselves up over it. The truth is that we can only do our best. When our best feels like it is lacking we need to cut ourselves some slack. Focus on what you provide and how much your children enjoy that.

So how can we give our children a childhood as awesome as the one we remember? How can we do that day after day? And not feel exhausted…?


Here are 5 steps towards turning the Ordinary into the Extraordinary:


Step One

Stop comparing what you are able to provide with what you see everyone else in your life posting on Facebook or talking about doing.

Remember that how we each approach a situation will always be distinct. What we see and hear our friends doing is often different from what fully transpired.

This is a step I am constantly reminding myself of. We may not go to the park everyday but we go at least four times a month, weather permitting. The area in which we live is not as blessed with museums as is Washington DC or another metropolitan area of that size. We do have an annual pass to our aquarium which the kids LOVE! Even though we do not have the money or time to do everything we see our friends with kids doing we still do fun things the kids enjoy.


Step Two

You know your kids better than anyone else.

When our children are young we (the parents) are the authorities on their likes and dislikes. As they get older it is important to talk with our children about their evolving tastes.

So when planning activities… Young children are open to just about any activity that you might be interested in from walking at the mall to a trip to the aquarium. The key here is to make time for your children from birth. If you are constantly involving them in your activities from chores and exercising to trips to the park or the museum then they will enjoy spending time with their family no matter the activity. This opens up a world filled with opportunities to create lasting memories.


Step Three

Fun and adventure come in many different forms.

Even an afternoon at the doctor office can go from mundane to a bit of decent fun if imagination is used. During one unexpected doctor appointment, my nephews used a container of anti-bacterial wipes (the only thing I had with me) to draw on the black plastic chairs they had been sitting in. They stayed busy for about forty minutes as we waited for their sister to be seen.


Step Four

Take everyday boring activities and turn them into a game!

Ever since our nephews were 3 weeks and 13 months old, Rent-a-Dad and I have been trying to figure out how to handle our outdoor chores as we had always done: together. For the first year the only way we could do that is if a friend or family member took pity on us and watched the boys.

Now that the boys are 3 and 4, they are at an age where they can play outside while we mow the yard and weed the garden. Sometimes playing while we do our chores can seem a bit boring for the boys. They want to help or want us to play. So we decided to turn our outdoor chores into a contest. We set up the yard like a relay race and the prize for completing the race is to be the first person in the pool! A very well earned treat on a hot and muggy summer evening!


Step Five

Enjoy all of the messy moments that occur in-between all the planned or perfect ones!

While I have loved each planned moment with the kids what I have found to be the most precious are all of the unexpected and messy moments. I try to keep a bag in our van that is packed with spare clothes for everyone in case an unexpected messy moment happens… like playing in the city fountain or jumping in that large puddle following the rain.

In early September our nephews had a stomach bug which meant scrapping all of our weekend plans. On the first day of feeling better we met up with some friends at a local restaurant. While talking after lunch was over the boys ran up a hill behind the restaurant.

For a few moments Rent-a-Dad and I thought we might have to chase after them but they stopped, turned and smiled at us. When they did that I encouraged them to roll down the hill remembering how much fun that used to be as a kid. They did exactly as I suggested. Fifteen minutes later they were very happy and very much in need of a little rest. It was the perfect example of an ordinary moment turned extraordinary.

Fostering: Emergency Placement

emergency placement

Late Tuesday evening Rent-a-Dad and I received a phone call about a child needing an emergency placement. By Wednesday evening our emergency placement was able to go home.

During the day on Wednesday, we had received several phone calls and text messages. Friends and family were  asking if we needed anything. By the time we replied to those concerns our emergency placement had already been re-united with family. This news shocked several of our friends and family members. They were a bit confused thinking that foster parents provided homes for stays lasting longer than one day. It is true that the bulk of placements last more than one night, often the stay spans a minimum of eight months. Emergency placements are rather different.

Emergency placements are a little like they sound. Something has happened to the parent or caregiver and now the child needs some where to call home no matter how temporary.

The first priority of DCS is to find a safe place for the child in question to receive food and a warm bed. Once that house is identified DCS then turns its attention to finding other family or friends that could care for the child. The search may only last a few hours, a day or it could take several weeks to several months. The intention of an emergency placement is to re-unite this child with family/friends as soon as possible.

It is important to keep in mind that emergency placements happen for a number of reasons. A caregiver might unexpectedly be in the hospital. A parent may have passed away or be missing. Not all foster care placements are due to negligence, drugs, or abuse.

Sometimes DCS finds out about cases like this late at night. A warm bed and safe home need to be identified so the child does not need to fall asleep on the floor at the local DCS office. This was the case with our emergency placement. By the next afternoon everything was worked out and could be reunited with family. In situations like this the reunification process happened so quickly that the child never truly had to be in care.

There are so many reasons to become a foster parent from emergency placements to long term care. Not only are there many reasons but also many ways in which a person can foster. Foster parents do not have to adopt or even plan to adopt. They can open their home to strictly deal with emergency placements or even respite care.

Interested in learning more about the different types of foster homes and placements? I encourage you to contact your local Department of Children Services or local charity that works with the foster care system. Rent-a-Dad and I work through the state. However there are plenty of private foster care organizations in the area where we live that we could also work through. There are even group homes meant to provide more of a respite type of care for families.

The only sad bit of information I have to share is that terminology can be different from state to state. Not all state agencies have websites that are easy to navigate let alone explain what you need to know. Families United Network, Inc. in Pennsylvania has a good “go to” page that explains some of the terminology I have used in the past from emergency placement to kinship foster care.

Creative and Judgmental Creatures


By our own curious natures we are also judgmental creatures. The thing is we can be curious without being judgmental. Is there some middle ground we can find?

Most people say children are not judgmental but rather curious. We hear that children are taught to be judgmental by viewing others’ actions. I was one of those children that fell in a between spot on the subject. If I didn’t understand something then I didn’t like it and made quick judgments even when I was curious. My parents had to teach me to not only be patient but to sit back and review what was going on before making a decision. This certainly meant thinking before opening my mouth and sharing rash thoughts.

My dad defined himself as being a company man because of his years in the navy. As someone who served his country, my dad felt that his country came before himself. As he got older he would joke that all he did was switch companies. The companies being (in order): the US Navy, Ma Bell (the original AT&T), husband and finally family man.

As a company man my dad would say “Mine is not to reason why. Mine is but to do or die.” The quote was my dad’s adaptation of Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. What my dad meant by sharing those words was that he had a job to do. That he felt as if he didn’t need to question his job and that his position was to fix the problem and help, not hinder or harm. At times questioning does lead to judging and he felt as if his job was not to judge.

My father’s interpretation of not judging or being judgmental has stayed with me my entire life. Whether I am trying not to judge or if I feel the need to be a follower rather than be a leader, I tend to quote my dad. Sometimes people get it and other times I have a few blank stares and maybe an odd look. As long as I know what I mean by sharing those words that is what matters.

At times that quote is my internal and external monologue. It serves as a reminder beyond not being judgmental. The quote inspires me at times when I want to give up, take another route, and/or to move forward. The quote helps remind me of a need to be a follower at times where I want to be the leader.

That said… Here is a BIG judgment:

People need to THINK before they speak and act

Recently I have read quite a few thoughts of how teachers are viewing the next generation. The reaction is worry and concern that the next generation doesn’t know how to be bored and they expect instant gratification.

It is human nature to want to NOT be bored and to want things instantly. That is why we invent gadgets to “make our lives easier”. The next generation is in an interesting position because so many things are instantly at our finger tips.

This strong need for instant gratification can lead to detrimental effects and overall bad behavior like being overly judgmental. Also reacting and speaking without thinking about the cause and effect. If we have things instantly at our fingertips we do not always take the time to think before we speak and react.

Right now most of us bear witness to this by how others interact with us in public or through what we read on social media.

So how can we stop judgmental behavior? How can we help teach the next generation that there is a balance?

Truthfully I don’t think there is just one answer or a good solid fix.

Social media is plastered with stories of displeased adults taking to the internet to call out someone. A nee to let the world decide who was right and who was wrong in a situation. That form of shaming on social media is an option towards taking others to task for their quick but thoughtless actions. While an option, this action in itself can be seen as a negative response to something already negative.

There have been times I myself have asked for thoughts (of my Facebook friends) on a situation I found myself in without wanting to call a specific person out. It is a hard urge to fight. What comes to mind as I am fighting this urge is the phrase “two wrongs don’t make a right”. Even when you are the correct party maybe your response is just as wrong or maybe not. I can tell you after making the post and asking the question sometimes I feel guilty. Should I feel guilty if my action is the “right” one?

In terms of social media, un-friending and un-liking is an option if you personally know someone who always seems to be judgmental. While this tactic is a bit on the passive aggressive side sometimes we all need to walk away from negative thinkers. Walking away is better than feeding into the situation further.

Leading by example is a good, but more difficult, option. Subtle hints and actions take time to exact change. Knowing when it is the right time to stand up and speak out, let alone what words to use, is a challenge.

In the articles I have read they state that society needs to teach children how to be bored as boredom is the opposite of instant gratification. Personally I feel boredom and creativity go hand in hand. If necessity is the mother of all invention then boredom is the catalyst for creativity. Boredom activates the creative mind.

So we want to teach the next generation to be less judgmental? We want them to THINK before they react?

Then we need to teach children that being bored isn’t something we can fix by just turning on our smart phones or electronic devices. We need to jumpstart their creative mind.

I remind my nephews that the world is not always as it appears let alone what we have wanted or planned. Sometimes the world is even better than imagined. To see beyond one must put aside judgmental behavior and accept that not everything is for us to “know” right this minute. That is a very hard task to carry out let alone teach.

What do you think the cure for boredom is? Is there something more to this next generation and their potential for great harm due to quick judgments and rash decisions?

Making that Special Halloween Costume for Your Child


Halloween has always been a highly anticipated holiday in our house. When I was a kid my mom would ask me what I wanted to be months in advance. If my answer was the same come September she would map out a “to-do” list from purchasing made items to the items needed to create/sew my costume.

Generally the last two weeks of October are when I receive the most emails/inquiries requesting help on costumes or advice for a quick and easy DIY costume.

The world of fabric and patterns has changed over the years. When I was a child it was much cheaper to make a costume then it was to purchase one. Even those plastic rain sheet/mask combos from the 80s weren’t as cheap as they looked.


In most cases it is now much cheaper to buy a pre-made store bought ready costume than it is to make one. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for a store bought costume or that making an inexpensive fun good looking costume is a thing of the past. With a good plan, a list, and creativity there are many ways to make a Halloween costume that is both inexpensive and fabulous!

The first step in creating any costume is having an idea of what you want to be and if there are any items in your house you can repurpose for your costume. This is always the advice I give when asked to make a “fast” or “inexpensive” costume.

You can apply the following tips to any costume project whether it is for a child or adult!


10 Tips on Making that Special Halloween Costume:

1-     Pick a character or theme

When selecting a character or theme also select a back up. This helps when shopping as you may find more items for the back up character than for your original.

2-     Select a Color Scheme

Any more it seems every character has more than one color palate. You can do a quick google search if you are unsure of what color palate you want to go with or want inspiration. One good search is typing in the phrase “inspiration costume” and the character name. Then click on the images section.

3-     Break the costume into pieces

You have a theme (or character) and a color scheme. Now look at the costume as pieces. Make a list.

Example: Batman has a mask, a cape, a shirt, a belt, pants and boots.

When making this list make jot down other character ideas that your child children talked about or that you know they love.

4-     Create a time line and budget

Example: Halloween is two weeks away and you only have $20 to spend on that mouse costume for your son. Here are your options:

  • Check your local Traget, Wal-Mart, party store or pop up Halloween store. They might have something for $20 or less that is premade


  • Purchase ears and a tail from the costume section and then buy a matching gray (or black) jogging suit in the child’s size.

If you feel like your inspiration or talents are lacking but you want something special, have money, and are doing a search a month ahead of time then I suggest taking a look on Etsy for a costume made with love.

5-     Get Specific

Can the items on my list be bought or made? This is a very important question to ask when creating your needs list. Homemade costumes are awesome but we don’t always have time to make 100% of the items needed. That is no reason the costume still can’t be made. Prefabricated items can be used for almost any costume like the mouse example above.

Once you have your list of pieces, think about whether found items can be used or does this piece need to be made. Next to each item on the list note down what color you are looking for, the size, possible material and if this is a store bought item or item needing to be made. If it can be a prefabricated item, note down the stores you want to look at.

Example: When making the Teen Titans Batman for my nephew, I needed to have a light to medium gray shirt and pants that matched. That year I couldn’t find a jogging set in his size in that color. So I had to purchase grey knit fabric and make the pieces myself. HOWEVER when I made my nephew a Peter Pan costume the shirt and pants did not need to match but they had to be in the same color palate like. I was able to find a polo shirt and leggings in different shades of hunter green at a thrift store.

6-     Consignment and Thrift Store Shopping

Consignment shops are a great place to start when looking for a ready to wear costume at a discounted price. Last year, at our KidtoKid store, I found two great condition Tinkerbell costumes. I paid $20 for both costumes when the original cost for one was $25+. All I had to do was make headbands and decorate shoes to complete the costumes.

Some people think of thrift stores as places where clothing goes to die. I see them as places of second chances and new beginnings. As a costumer the thrift store has always been my best friend both for ready made items and pieces I could alter.

I wait to go to my local thrift store until I know they have put out their Halloween items. It is highly unlikely you will find a head to toe rack ready costume but it doesn’t hurt to look. I find that the costume area provides inspiration and a place where I can pick up pieces to complete a look. Once the Halloween section is exhausted, get creative. I scour all of the departments.

Years ago, when making Jake and Cubby costumes, I found colonial style pants and a Captain Hook jacket. While I couldn’t use them then, I knew my eldest nephew would love to be Hook at some point so I purchased the items. Last year when my nephew decided he wanted to be Hook I was excited to be half-way done with his costume.

While creating a pirate costume I found a unique red vest in the women’s department. The costume was for a man but I didn’t let that stop me from purchasing the vest. When my friend tried the vest on with his black silk shirt and leather pants the pirate look was complete.


7-     Think Outside of the Box

Being flexible and thinking outside of the box pays off whether piecing together a costume or making one. Definitely look in unexpected places and think of untraditional items in a new light.

Look in all sections of a store. Look at items around you that can be used as an accessory to complete the costume.

Felt is great to use for faux belts, hats and masks. Silver dryer hoses make wonderful robot arms!

When I couldn’t find a brass buckle for a pirate costume I thought outside of the box. I created a buckle using four buttons and a cheaper smaller brass buckle as the under-frame. I then used the same buttons and a bit of hot glue on a pair of dress black shoes I purchased at the thrift store for a matched set look.


For a Teen Titans Robin costume a couple of years back I bought a red t-shirt. All it needed was green sleeves. This purchase saved me time and money. I didn’t need to buy a pattern. I cut the sleeves off and used them as a pattern to make the new sleeves. Then I zig-zag stitched on the new sleeves.


8-     Making a Costume Doesn’t Mean Sewing

Don’t be afraid to make a costume just because you might not know how to sew. Over the years I have seen some amazing costumes created using tape, glue, and even staples. While sewing fabric items means durability and longevity, if this is a one time only costume proceed with however you feel comfortable constructing it.

Children are notorious for dropping projects on their parents last minute. A friend told me about a Dorothy costume her daughter needed for school the next day. This friend had a love/hate relationship with sewing machines so she had to come up with a different way to make a last minute costume. Two sheets, a pattern, hot glue (where the costume didn’t need to bend) and double sided carpet tape (for the seams) was her answer. The costume worked for that one day school event. From the pictures I would never have been able to tell that is how the costume was put together!

9-     Coupons, Coupons, Coupons

Many fabric and hobby stores have coupons either through snail mail, email, apps, and even doing a quick google search online. Some fabric/craft stores even honor competitor’s coupons. I even use coupons at my local thrift stores.

For each detailed costume I make I keep a project folder where I can keep my patterns, fabric/trim samples, my list, maybe a sketch or photo for project inspiration and my coupons. Until I have all the items needed for the costume I keep the project folder with me so if I have an “ahah!” moment I feel prepared.

10-Pre-Plan for next year

A good portion of my costume planning involves thinking of next year. When at the thrift store browsing for this year’s costume, I buy items to put away for future costumes. If you like to do post Halloween candy shopping (at Wal-Mart or Target) that is also a good time to look at any marked down costumes. That is also a good time to go to places like Hot Topic and TJMaxx. You never know where you might find an inspiration piece. In the past I have purchased a winter princess, Batgirl, a medieval dress, Piglet, and a Buzz Lightyear costume all for under $10 a piece. Each item was used either the following Halloween, for a Renaissance festival or to even play dress up in.

To Co-Sleep or Not to Co-Sleep: Part 2 Co-Sleeping Habits


As birth or adoptive parents, our co-sleeping habits are up to us. As foster parents it is a different story. Each state has different rules and guidelines that govern co-sleeping habits. No matter the state the basic part of the official rule is “NO co-sleeping”.

End of story. Right?

In simple terms NO means NO. So it should be the end of the story but it isn’t.

Co-sleeping isn’t just about some “bad” habit formed during infancy. It is true that infancy is when co-sleeping habits form but it is not a habit that simply stops because a child is no longer a baby. And it doesn’t just stop because it is not your kid and you don’t have the right to co-sleep.

Tennessee is no different than most states with officials telling parents of any kind to stop co-sleeping. The official take on the best way to raise a baby to childhood is to follow the ABCs of Safe Sleeping. While this is the official take on the matter it doesn’t mean that all birth families follow these guidelines.

Truthfully there are enough co-sleeping options available so families can co-sleep and still follow those ABCs. All one needs to do is a web search for “bedside co sleeper”.

When it came time for our first placement, Rent-a-Dad and I had already gone through the classes and had been told by the state, pediatricians, and the local health center that co-sleeping was a “no-no”. From our personal standpoint, we fight with our cats for space in our bed each night. Why would we ant to worry about adding a baby or a toddler to that mess?

Usher in our first placement: a baby and a toddler. They each had their own bed/crib in their own bedroom. We did use a bassinet and a pram for the baby when he wasn’t in his own crib.

Good. Right?

Not exactly.

The toddler had already developed co-sleeping habits with his father but we weren’t to find this out for months. Due to the co-sleeping habits the toddler refused to go to sleep without an hour worth of crying and screaming each night. To him no dad equaled no sleep.

At this time Rent-a-Dad had evening commitments for the first two months of their stay with us. This meant I handled setting up the bedtime routine. The infant was relatively easy as he would be napping around his brother’s bedtime. The bedtime routine for the toddler was physically and emotionally draining for me.

I would spend between thirty minutes and an hour each night trying to calmly get the toddler to sleep.

This difficult and draining nightly event was discussed with all the caseworkers. The caseworkers were worried over the amount of time it took to get the toddler calm enough to drift off to sleep. We discussed techniques such as using noise machines to bed-time stories to even co-sleeping.

Yes the caseworkers and I talked about trying co-sleeping with the toddler. They asked if we had tried it and I told them we hadn’t.

The reason? Not only had the state already expressly said “no co-sleeping” in our training and paperwork, it honestly felt weird to Rent-a-Dad and I to think about a little human not biologically ours crawling into our bed.

That however did not mean we didn’t try a variation of co-sleeping. I would put the TV on in his room, turn off the lights, and sit with him on the twin bed. My hope was he would fall asleep and I could move him to his crib. I even tried quiet time with reading a book or putting the noise machine on. Each attempt at setting a bedtime routine would take five nights as five days is about the time it takes for routines to get set in a child’s mind. Any quiet time activity had the opposite affect on him. He would jump on the bed, laugh, and refuse to calm down. Co-sleeping habits of any kind were not going to work.

So the answer was no. No we did not try co-sleeping, at least not by DCS measures.

At the end of the first month what worked more consistently was turning on the noise machine/nightlight, putting the toddler in his crib, and then I would lie on the floor and hold his hand through the slat of the crib until he fell asleep. This was by no means bed-sharing but it was a form of co-sleeping habits.

Due to the difficulties we had with any bedtime routine for the toddler the birth parents were asked frequently about their bed time routines. Each time they denied any form of co-sleeping as to them it meant bed-sharing.

After getting to know the birth family better we found out that the birth father would get home from work and try to decompress. He did so while watching evening shows and the toddler would fall asleep on the couch curled up next to him. When the toddler was a baby he would fall asleep in his dad’s arms.

Even though the birth father would move him to his crib once he was asleep this was the toddler’s bedtime routine. While technically this was not bed-sharing it most certainly was developing co-sleeping habits.

Once we learned what the bed time routine really was we were able to adapt what we were doing. The toddler still would not curl up with us, nor did we expect him to, we used the TV in his room on a timer to help with a fuss free bedtime routine.

As for the baby…

One very important thing to remember is that co-sleeping does not mean bed-sharing. Because the government uses the two terms synonymously so many people are against co-sleeping. Broken down into the most basic explanation co-sleeping means sleeping in close proximity to an infant.

Our first foster baby had a need to know his caregivers were near by at all times. We found this out quickly as not every time he cried was it for food or a diaper change. It sometimes just meant he wanted to be rocked or soothed. After the first week of letting him sleep in the pram we had, because the crib did not work consistently, we invested in a bassinet. The bassinet could be locked still or in its unlocked position it could be rocked. It also had music and light vibration settings.

That bassinet ensured that we received some form of sleep and sanity each night. At bedtime the bassinet sat in our room next to our bed. During the day I kept the bassinet near me in our family room. After the first few months the baby slept in the bassinet at night and napped in his rocker during the day. After most bottles the baby would fall asleep in our arms.

Both Rent-a-Dad and I are big believers in skin to skin bonding for newborns and infants under 3 months. Skin to skin bonding does not mean anyone needs to be naked. I would generally wear a tank top and Rent-a-Dad an undershirt and we would hold our clothed foster baby with his face in the crook of our neck while we burped him and rubbed his back.

Foster parents are constantly reminded that children in the foster care system have hard times bonding and being able to create bonds is an important life skill. When babies are removed from their mothers so close to birth there needs to be some kind of bond formed between the care giver and the baby. This bond is an important part of early learning. Skin to skin bonding can help make this connection.

Have questions on how to bond with any foster child? This article, 10 ways to bond with your adopted or foster child, has a lot of good ideas including skin to skin contact even with older children.

For concerned foster parents, here are some important questions to discuss with your caseworker:

  • Does co-sleeping strictly refer to bed-sharing?
  • As long as the plan is for the infant to move to a crib in his/her own room after a few months, can a bassinet be used in the foster parent’s bedroom?
  • When a toddler/child is having trouble getting to sleep, can you utilize co-sleeping habits like rocking them to sleep, rubbing their back, or sitting in a chair beside their bed until they fall asleep?
  • What should I do if the child/toddler is consistently crawling into my bed after I go to sleep?

No one ever really thinks about these questions when it is your own biological or adopted child. As foster parents we must think through each of our actions not just because of how others see them but also because of the child in our care. There are many forms of trauma. While one child could use a back rub to get to sleep another child might scream out in fright. Once a child is in your care, and you are taking each day at a time, it can prove useful to talk to your caseworker about habits and routines.

In most states the “no co-sleeping” rule is geared toward newborns and infants as SIDs is a top concern. The rule is also more about “no bed-sharing” than it is about utilizing co-sleeping habits. Talk with your caseworker so you know what your boundaries are.

Getting children to sleep and stay asleep is a struggle most parents sympathize with.

For foster parents I urge everyone to document as much as you can. If you have questions send your case-worker an email. Email is a good way to communicate and document concerns. Most case-workers document the sleeping habits of children in care anyway. Any answers you receive concerning sleeping habits need to be documented so if questions arise in the future you have something to refer back to.

Most foster parents will find that while bed-sharing is a “no-no” that utilizing co-sleeping habits is normal. In Tennessee where the system is working on prudent parenting and creating normalcy for foster children, using co-sleeping habits such as holding a toddlers hand until they fall asleep is just a normal part of life.

To Co-Sleep or Not to Co-Sleep: Part 1


To co-sleep or not to co-sleep, it is a very good question.

First and foremost this article is not a place of judgment. Every child is different and each family situation unique.

If you want to explore some of the pros/cons of co-sleeping then you will need to do your own research. Two articles that I did find refreshing are Safe Co-Sleeping Guidelines from the University of Notre Dame and Dr. Sear’s article Co-Sleeping: Yes, No, Sometimes. Neither article passes judgment but rather provides advice, and re-assurance. Every parent can use a little, or a lot, of both at times.

Several years back one friend, a new mother, was seeking both of those. She was receiving quite a few judgmental comments about her co-sleeping with her daughter. I believe the only advice I gave was the same advice passed from my grandmother to my mother and from my mother to me. Give the baby, or toddler, his/her own designated sleep space and opportunities to sleep on his/her own. My mom said co-sleeping isn’t bad but we need to make sure that as the baby turns into a toddler and a young child that he/she understands the need for his/her own bed.

After sharing that advice I know I explained my own history. There are pictures of my dad and me taking a nap together in his recliner. Nap times were the times where my parents chose to co-sleep with me. At bedtime they placed me in my bassinet (as an infant) and then later a crib. When I was visiting with my grandparents I tended to co-sleep with them more often than not.

At the age of four my world was rocked by the passing of my grandfather. After which I had frequent nightmares. My father had a chair next to my bed where he would sit and read me stories. On nights where I had difficulty falling asleep he would sit with me until I fell asleep. Sometime overnight I would still find my way into my parent’s bedroom and fall asleep on the foot of their bed if I didn’t crawl in-between them.

Over night stays with my grandmother now meant I rarely slept in my own bed. I have memories of waking up at night and watching her sleep to make sure she wasn’t going to leave me as well.

When I was five or six my grandmother moved three states away to be closer to one of her other daughters. By this time I was school aged and spending more time in my own bed at home and less time visiting my grandmother.

The point of sharing that story with my friend was that “to everything there is a season”. Co-sleeping for me was not something that took place 100% of the time since I was a baby. Co-sleeping was tied to needing re-assurance and safety. Two things parents want to provide their children with.

Three years ago my nephews lived with us for a while. My youngest nephew was only a baby at the time. Even though he was the best baby ever, the first two months were still difficult. He easily fell asleep in my arms or on my husband’s chest, in his swing and when he was rocked in his bassinet. Once he was asleep we could leave him in his bassinet or move him to his crib. Any co-sleeping were the times he would sleep in our arms while we watched TV.

When there were late-night wake-ups, my nephew would easily fall back asleep in his bassinet. At three months old he was rolling over and by the fourth month he was lifting his head with ease. This meant more crib time for naps and bedtime. He would easily fall asleep with a few minutes of lullaby music by the time he was nine months old and sleep at least six hours. He was the perfect little baby.

Life and sleeping were a different story when he was fifteen months old. He had moved back home with his parents and only spent the night at our house from time to time. During these visits he refused to sleep in his old crib and he no longer liked the nighttime routine we once had. After a few sleepless nights when he visited we decided to see if he would sleep in his playpen in our bedroom. This seemed to work for a few months.

One night both Rent-a-Dad and I woke up to a very upset toddler who was trying to climb into our bed. It seemed as if my nephew was having sleep anxiety and wanted to make sure none of us were going to leave him while he slept. Ever since that night we have become used to waking up with our nephew at the foot of our bed, on the pillows above our heads or wedged in-between us. Even with a nighttime story book routine and settling down in his bed, some point overnight he would wake up and find his way to our bedroom.

More and more my nephew does sleep the majority of the night in his own bed. His season of co-sleeping is winding down. Whenever he needs it we re-assure him that we will not disappear on him.

As for how we as foster parents feel about co-sleeping and the guidelines we have to follow… well you will need to read Part 2 of this article.

This post is dedicated to creating memories and learning about the road less traveled. My maternal grandmother moved from Maryland to Georgia in the early 80s. From about 1985 to her death in 2005, some part of our family either traveled to visit her or her to visit us often enough that we came to have a love and hate relationship with I-81.

When I was a kid there weren’t a lot of exits along this highway. We depended on the road side rest stops as gas stations were few and far between. For a kid with motion sickness the trip could go from boring to excruciating in about 5 minutes.

As I got older and my motion sickness was found out to be vision related (Yay glasses!), I was able to value road trips more. I treasured the time we played games, walked dogs in snow laden grass embankments and had snowball fights, when we were able to explore small town America instead of just sticking to roadside rest-stops, and for me personally- I would sit and draw the mountains we drove past thinking of each one as a dear friend marking my journey. Then as I got older I began to miss and long for those road trips as family members aged, stopped taking trips or started their own families. Later on as I started my own family and also made the move from Maryland, I began to take trips down I-81 with my husband and have been able to add to those memories.

The first time Branden and I went to Williamsburg, VA was about our 7th or 8th trip together driving along I-81 so we knew that there were a few truck stops and exits on I-81 that we liked to stop off at. That said the older I get the more I realize fast food on a road trip can be fun but I pay for it in the end (no-puns-intended). So we are always in search of that quick sit down meal or a fast food place that has healthier options.

Our first road trip to Williamsburg followed a long day at work so we knew we needed an evening stop over before getting to our journey’s end. We weren’t sure where that would be so we grabbed a hotel coupon booklet from as rest stop for some ideas. What first stuck out and caught our attention was Staunton, VA. As we were pulling into the hotel we chose, we saw a sign for Edelweiss restaurant. It seemed like karma. We had always wanted to try that restaurant but never had time. The restaurant also stood out to us because Edelweiss is the name of the theme song for the choir I worked for at that time.

Sadly when we got to the restaurant it was closed. So we did not get to eat there on our way to Williamsburg however we grabbed a menu and on our return trip we made a point to grab brunch there. The restaurant was glorious! I whole heartedly recommend it to everyone who enjoys German food and has to take a trip that involves driving down I-81. Since 2009, Branden and I have been to this restaurant a minimum of six times. It has never failed to impress us. It has everything we love- good food for great prices, a wonderful at home feeling (with a German theme) and great staff.


Edelweiss even has a website now ( Maybe not the prettiest website but don’t judge a book by its cover or the website that represents it 😉 If you should find yourself planning a road trip along I-81 in Virginia and are able to have a sit down meal, you should look up Edelweiss up so you can add it to your very own journey.