“Mommy, is that Whole30?” asked my four year old.
I answered, “No.”
“Why?” he responded, paused, and then offered his own answer, “Sugar?”
“That’s right, buddy.”
He grinned and said, “I knew you’d say that!”.
We’ve just finished our second Whole30 as a family and my little guy has the rules down to a “T”.
Chances are you’ve had a friend post on their Facebook about doing a Whole30 – or maybe you’ve done one of your own. In case you’re not familiar with the concept, Whole30 is a month-long food challenge that’s all about resetting your food habits and gently detoxing a little. For the month, you are charged to not eat grains, sugar, legumes, dairy, or alcohol. Basically, eats lots of fruits, veggies, and meat.
As I’ve already mentioned, this was our second Whole30. Here are a few observations that we’ve made from our experiences (in no particular order).
You’re going to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Just know that you’re going to be chopping a lot of veggies for a few weeks. You’ll need to add some extra minutes to your cooking time each day.
There will be hard days… and some days you’ll soar right on through. Some days you’ll really, really want chocolate. Normal. Other days you’ll be surprised by yourself and find that you’re actually enjoying the changes you’ve made.
You HAVE to plan ahead. A meal plan (for each meal of the day) is non-optional, otherwise you WILL step off plan and you WILL get to start over at Day 1 again. More about that in a minute.
Leftovers and batch cooking are your friends. I suggest cooking a little extra at dinner – or making an extra dish for the week – to have for lunch leftovers or to pull out for a quick meal on unexpectedly busy days.
You’re going to need a lot of food on hand. This might be a good time to consider shopping at a store like Aldi’s to preserve your grocery budget or to invest in a Sam’s or Costco membership to make buying in larger quantities a little more feasible. Either way, fruits and veggies don’t fill you up like pastas and breads. Plan accordingly.
You’ll be proud of your accomplishment. At the end of a successful Whole30 you’ll be able to look back and be genuinely proud of yourself. You’ve said no to indulgences for a full month without wavering. Cheers!
It’s worth it. You’ll likely feel considerably better after a month of clean eating. Some things my husband and I have noticed include less brain fog and feeling more rested upon waking in the morning.
I mentioned that planning ahead with your meals is critical to a Whole30 that’s on plan. I suggest planning either a week of meals at a time or the whole month if you have the time. We’ve created a Whole30 meal planning template for you to download and print for free! Click here to get it: WHOLE30 MEAL PLAN
I’m also going to share some breakfast and lunch ideas and our full dinner plan for the entire 30 days. (You can find a lot more recipes online. Pinterest can be a really helpful resource, just be aware that not every meal tagged as Whole30 will follow the exact guidelines and you may need to make some tweaks.)
Breakfasts Personally, I feel like breakfasts are the most challenging part of the Whole30 to provide some variety. Here are some ideas:
Scrambled Eggs with fruit on the side
Fried Eggs with Bacon (you’ll likely need to go to a health food store to find appropriate bacon) Turkey Sausage with sliced avocados, tomatoes, and or fruit on the side.
Sweet Potato Hash with Aidell’s Chicken Apple Sausage (most groceries carry this – note that this is the only variety of Aidell’s sausage that is Whole30 approved). Monkey Salad (a tasty mix of cashews, almond butter, bananas, blueberries, and shredded coconut – helpful if you’re missing breakfast cereal)
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with bananas, nuts, etc. (helpful if you’re missing hot cereal)
Lunches are hard for me to plan. Most of the time, I prefer to just make extra dinner the night before and serve that up for a quick lunch. That doesn’t always happen, so here are a few ideas for lunches.
Vegetable Soup (a pound of ground beef, a few bags of frozen veggies, and some broth can net you a big pot of soup that you can eat off of for days. Chicken Nuggets – Without a lot of time you can have a large pan full of these for quick lunches or even a protein snack. Serve with applesauce or cut veggies.
Salads (Keep some shredded chicken on hand to throw on a bed of lettuce along with whatever fruits, veggies, and/or nuts that you like. We like using the Tessemae’s Lemon dressing.)
Baked Potatoes with taco meat or shredded chicken are tasty and filling.
Lunchmeat with veggies, fruit, and pickles. It can be challenging to find an approved lunch meat, so you’ll have to do some leg work to see what the store’s in your area carry, but it’s nice to have on a hand for a super quick lunch to pull out. Dinners
This is our full dinner meal plan from our second Whole30. I’ve linked to as many recipes as I possibly can to make this a quick grab-n-go resource for you.
Day 1: Orange Glazed Salmon, Roasted Potatoes, Asparagus
Day 2: Taco Bowls (Cauliflower Rice, Taco Meat, Chopped Tomatoes, Avocado, and Cilantro)
Day 3: Chicken Nuggets, Oven Fries, Cooked Carrots
Day 4: Date Night! We brought Whole30 approved meals in from Snap Kitchen. More about that in a few…
Day 5: Family Night! Every spring my husband’s work hosts a family night for the employees. We were able to partake of the meal by eating hamburgers without a bun, mustard, sliced tomatoes, and pickles
Day 6: Roast (in my Instant Pot), Green Beans, Cooked Carrots
Day 7: Sliders with Guacamole and W30 approved Bacon (it’s sometimes easier to find approved salami, which is crisp in a skillet – dead ringer for bacon), with Oven Fries, and Strawberries and Bananas
Day 8: Orange Glazed Chicken, Spaghetti Squash, Green Beans with slivered almonds
Day 9: Taco Stuffed Sweet Potatoes (taco meat, avocados, and sliced tomatoes)
Day 10: Almond Crusted Chicken (no yogurt and only use Whole30 compliant mayo – I just use an egg dip instead while we’re on the Whole30), Mashed Potatoes (use coconut oil instead of butter) and Green Beans
Day 11: Date Night! We brought Whole30 approved meals in from Snap Kitchen. More about that in a few…
Day 12: Creamy Taco Soup
Day 13: Korean Beef Bowls with Cauliflower Rice and Broccoli (This was a big hit in our family!)
Day 14: Mother’s Day Meat Fest! (I requested a special meal for Mother’s Day – a grill full of various meats. We chose BBQ Chicken using this sauce, Pork Chops, Steak, and Aidell’s Chicken Apple Sausage.)
Day 15: Pulled BBQ Chicken (using the same sauce as Day 14), Sweet Potato Fries, and Green Beans.
Day 16: Dinner with Family! We visited my in-law’s this day. They were so kind to fix us a Whole30 meal of Grilled Chicken and Veggies.
Day 17: Date Night! We brought Whole30 approved meals in from Snap Kitchen. More about that in a few…
Day 18: Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs (using this sauce recipe, minus the sugar.)
Day 19: Orange Chicken with Cauliflower Rice and Broccoli.
Day 20: Pulled BBQ Chicken (using the same sauce as Day 14) and Green Beans.
Day 21: Creamy Chicken Enchilada Soup
Day 22: Shepherd’s Pie (my own recipe – coming to the blog soon!)
Day 23: Sweet Potato Chili
Day 24: Grilled Burgers, Aidell’s Chicken Apple Sausage, Roasted Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Bubbies brand Pickles
Day 25: Date Night! We brought Whole30 approved meals in from Snap Kitchen. More about that in a few…
Day 26: Oven Roasted Whole Chicken, Green Beans, and Carrots
Day 27: Green Salsa Chicken Tacos (I cooked chicken breast in the crockpot covered in a green salsa, shredded, and served in romaine leaves topped with avocado.)
Day 28: Creamy Ham & Potato Soup
Day 29: Mexican Steak with Avocado Salsa (People! This was amazing! My favorite meal of the Whole30.)
Day 30: Hamburger Soup
FAQs Do your kids participate? YES! Why not instill some good habits and expose them to some new flavors while they’re young? I will say that we allowed them to go off plan about 10% during the month.
Do you make any tweaks? Minimal tweaks. We occasionally allowed peas and allowed more potatoes than is probably typical. The reason for this is because I’m nursing and needed to be sure to get plenty of carbs.
Was your milk supply impacted, as a nursing mom? Yes, but not in the way you’re thinking. I pump twice daily (at the same times of day), so I have a fairly good handle on what my normal output is. To my own surprise my supply actually increased by several ounces daily.
What about eating out? Eating out is extremely challenging. There are precious few places that can accommodate W30 eating. Snap Kitchen however has MANY options that are completely Whole30 compliant! They have locations in several large cities including Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and more! Because we love you, we’re giving you a coupon for $10 off your first order! Simply enter this code when you order online: LWES-CTMfrom www.snapkitchen.com.
What about my grocery budget? Not going to lie… We went over our grocery budget during our W30. We personally are okay with that since it’s a short period of time (just a month) and view it as an investment in our health and well-being. Other cleanses and health programs cost money, too. HOWEVER, as we went on we found a few hacks for making it a little more budget friendly. One of our best tips is to make a big pot of soup once or twice a week. We loved every soup we tried and we have leftovers every single time. Buy things in season and on sale. Go to Aldi. Avoid unusual ingredients most of the time (coconut aminos is tasty, but it’s expensive, y’all!). Stock up on on plan foods at Sam’s or Costco.
Any confessions? Yes. I’m tired of sweet potatoes. And I really like sweet potatoes. In full disclosure, I have a nursing baby with a sensitive stomach – he can’t tolerate eggs yet, so my breakfasts were almost 100% sweet potato hash.
Did you lose any weight? Whole30 is NOT a weight loss program. It’s all about instilling good habits and doing some gentle, whole foods based cleansing. However, because you’re cutting things like sugar and carbs, weight loss isn’t uncommon. I’m a nursing mom – and weight loss while nursing DOES NOT come easy for me. I lost 12 lbs. during our Whole30. Hip, hip, hooray!
What is your first post Whole30 splurge? Sorry to disappoint…. but I’m not splurging just yet. There’s a Whole30 food reintroduction protocol that we’ve chosen to follow.
Have you ever considered Whole30 – or completed Whole30? Let us know what you thought about it!
In our last post, we gave a few suggestions for simplifying the Christmas season with young children in the house. Today, I want to follow that up with some ideas that are fun, simple, require very little expense or preparation, and build loads of fun traditions and memories.
1. Do some form of Advent with them. I realize this is the third time (at least!) I’ve mentioned Advent this season, but it is so essential for keeping the season in perspective. We’ve given several suggestions on our Advent post. Maybe you have young toddlers or even babies in your home. I recently heard a fantastic suggestion for Advent-ing even with them! Take a couple minutes each night and sing simple Christmas carols, such as Away in a Manger or Silent Night. This can slip right in to a bed-time routine, but keeps the Christmas Story in front of them.
2. Have a special baking day. If you have little ones that are old enough (personally, I feel like the 3 1/2-4 year old range really opens up options for activities together), set aside a day to tackle one or two special baking activities. If you need something similar, why not create little Christmas baskets for your neighbors with packets of hot cocoa, disposable hot drink cups, wrapped candy canes, etc.? — all things little hands can easily put in a basket.
3. Decorate a small tree with them — just for their room. There are some adorable little Christmas trees out there. My boys had SO much fun picking out a blue tinsel tree this year, choosing a few non-breakable ornaments, and decorating their tree. It’s a fun time to relax a little bit on your perfect Christmas tree decoration standards and just enjoy watching them go to town on their little tree.
4. Set aside an evening to look at Christmas lights. You can definitely go for a drive in nearby neighborhoods to look at lights, but I’d also suggest just strolling through your own neighborhood… This might be a great alternative for youngsters who don’t do well in the car or for those kiddos who are still rear-facing in their car seat.
6. Go caroling to your neighbors. We caroled with my in-laws last Christmas season… just a few neighbors on their street. It’s a fun evening and people really do appreciate you taking a moment to make them feel special.
7. Christmas PJs! One of our favorite little traditions is to choose new pajamas for our kids to give them on Christmas Eve. (You could give their PJs to them earlier in the season, too.) This doesn’t have to be overcomplicated or expensive…. This year our boys are getting matching pajama sets…. that I bought during a “buy one, get one” sale.
8. Collect a stash of Christmas books. We have a small stack of Christmas books that we have out only during December. Some families wrap their Christmas books, unwrapping one each day leading up to Christmas. I love that idea, but this year we’re choosing to keep our books available in a special “Christmas book basket” for simplicity. Again, this doesn’t have to be expensive! All except a couple of our books were purchased at Half Price Books. They have a special holidays shelf in the children’s section, which makes finding great Christmas books easy and inexpensive. Since we intentionally do an Advent program with our boys, most of our Christmas books are purely festive. Some of our favorites are Little Blue Truck’s Christmas, Bear Stays Up for Christmas, Fa La La, and the classic Caldecott medal-winning Polar Express.
Leave a comment below and share your favorite Christmas tradition with your youngsters!
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This week, we have chosen to focus our posts on adoption- in honor of National Adoption Month. During the next week, we will share the stories of five different women whose lives have each been radically impacted by adoption.
Christa and I (Ashley) met on a trip to China with Show Hope in 2010. I’ll never forget trekking the Great Wall of China with her and getting to know her over those two weeks! As Show Hope is an organization with an emphasis on orphan care, we, along with a group of other young women, got acquainted with one another’s hearts for orphan care and adoption at that time. Since then, it has been a joy to watch both of us develop, get married, and to see how Christa’s family has bloomed. Christa’s heart for children is strong and brave, and it is with joy that I present this interview, with Christa’s story of foster care and adoption. Since the time of this interview a couple weeks ago, Christa and her husband have welcomed their new baby girl!
C&T: What are the current demographics of your family? Christa: Currently, we have a 3 year old bio daughter, a 2 year old adopted son, and a baby on the way (maybe soon- contractions have started making their presence known).
C&T: What led you to consider adoption? Christa: Honestly, I’ve personally felt called to adoption since I was 4. My first career choice was to be a Batman and Joker mommy. I felt that, since Batman’s mommy had died, he needed someone to care for him, and Joker wouldn’t have been nearly so bad if he had a good mommy. After that, I got good and self-righteous. I said, “How selfish would I have to be to bring a child into the world when there are so many who are waiting for homes!”. Once God got ahold of me about my self-righteousness, I still felt called and, thus, it was a requirement for any man I perspectively might marry that he be on board with adopting. Honestly, after so many years, I was certain that God gave me that vision because I wasn’t going to be able to have biological children. Well, he’s now surprised me with two of them (whom, yes, I love just as much as my adopted son).
C&T: Did you foster before you adopted? Was it a domestic or international adoption? Closed or open? Christa: Yes, we fostered through Arkansas DCFS. We have been an open foster home for 2.5 years and fostered a few other little boys, before our current son came into our family. It is a closed adoption, due to his previous family situation. We still have pictures of them for his sake, though, and try to pray for them daily.
C&T: How did you decide the when and where of your adoption process? Christa: Honestly, before we became pregnant with our first daughter, we we planning on International adoption; though, once we had her, God brought more and more people into our lives who were foster parents. We then got introduced to an organization here in Arkansas named The CALL (Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime). The more we learned about the crisis in the foster care system and what these children had been through, the more God led us to foster.
C&T: What have been the top 3 challenges of your experience? Christa: Only 3?? With it being through DCFS, there were a lot of hoops to jump through, from making our home look like they wanted it, to all the training you have to go through. That was definitely the hardest. The second challenge was letting our other boys go, when it was their time. We loved them with every ounce of our being and watching them leave was heart wrenching. The third I guess would have to be a grief in loss of certain “social standing”. I have been judged for having African American children, judged for using WIC at the grocery store, told that I was a bad mom for how I was handling my screaming infant, who was simply screaming because he had only been with me a few days, and the list goes on.
C&T: What have been the top 3 joys of your experience? Christa: Again, only 3? Oh my, seeing a mother get her baby back is priceless. Beyond that, God has blessed us beyond measure. To see God’s family step in and help us through the hard times has been so humbling and encouraging (just today I was talking to a woman about my now adopted son, and she told me what a blessing it was to try to rock him in the nursery at church, during his 2 months of screaming constantly, because she knew I was getting a break from what I was dealing with every day). And, of course, we just finalized our adoption on October 19, 2016. The joy of holding my son, who I know God specifically brought to me after years of having that desire on my heart, cannot be put into words.
C&T: If there is one thing you would want people to know about the process of adoption, what would it be? Christa: It’s hard. There are many times you feel very alone and invisible. New moms who have their children biologically get baby showers, meals brought to them, and sweet gifts galore. Adoptive, and especially foster moms, don’t get that. They may have been up all night with newborns for months, due to strings of placements, but not many think to bring them a meal. Recently, one friend who is an awesome foster mom finally had a shower thrown for her after 4 or 5 placements. She was telling how special it was, partly because not long before, her mom bought her some things and she said, “these would normally be baby shower gifts, but since you’ve not had one I thought I’d go ahead and give them to you now.”. Also, children from hard places deal with very different issues than biological children, so many times in conversation you end up simply feeling left out or looked down upon because people simply don’t understand.
C&T: What has been the most helpful post-adoption resource for you? Christa: Well, I’m not far post-adoption, but I’d say the most helpful thing throughout fostering has been people with ears to listen and not quick to try to offer advice (since generally they don’t understand) and people who tell me how they’re going to help, rather than ask, “what do you need?”. We have one family who will occasionally simply say, “you’ve not asked us to watch the kids in awhile; when this week do you want us to watch them?”. Because, honestly, you’re so tired and stressed out, you don’t even know how to ask for help. I know some families who have had friends just show up and do lawn care and others who have had a friend show up just to do the dishes and sweep the floor. Those things are amazing after having dealt with court hearings, visitations, paperwork, and home visits.
C&T: How did you/do you want to be supported before and after the adoption took place? Christa: Since we did through foster care, monetary wasn’t important to us, but again, tangible actions have blessed us beyond measure!
C&T: What would be your advice to someone else going through the same experience? Christa: My advice: PRAY! You cannot do adoption on your own. It is too hard. You have to be relying on God to help you through. He has to be your foundation. Also, make sure you and your husband are on the same page. An adopted child is not going to help your marriage. It will put so much more stress and strain on your relationship. If you are not in sync, you cannot be what that child needs. I’ve watched many marriages fall apart due to thinking that bringing a child home will fix their problems.
Christa Adams and her husband Justin will be married 40 years on February 18, 2052 (meaning this February, they will celebrate their 5th anniversary). Justin is an audio engineer at FamilyLife, a ministry to care for marriages and families, in Little Rock, AR and Christa is now simply known as “Momma”. Christa loves serving in the children’s ministry at church and is always up for whatever adventure God may present next- the problem comes when He says it’s time to stay put for awhile.
This week, we have chosen to focus our posts on adoption- in honor of National Adoption Month. During the next week, we will share the stories of five different women whose lives have each been radically impacted by adoption.
Today, I (Laurel) am delighted to introduce you to my friend Kristin. Kristin and I met a couple of years ago through mutual friends (it was at a Young Living oils class!). Kristin’s heart and spirit are so gentle and sweet – something that I know you’re going to pick up on easily today as she shares candidly about her and her husband’s journey of adopting their three children.
C&T: What are the current demographics of your family? Kristin: We are a tri-racial family. Greg and Kristin (Mom and Dad! White), Madalyn (age 10, Latino), Isabella (age 7, White), and Corban (age 2, Black – he’s bi-racial, but on many official forms, the race of the birth father is used to determine the race of the child).
C&T: What led you to consider adoption?
Kristin: We received a calling to adopt after seven years of marriage; we had not “tried” for kids yet, and as far as we know we can conceive, but we realized pretty quickly that the LORD had adoption in mind for our family. All three adoptions are completely unique and were fully God-led! It was amazing!
C&T: Did you foster before you adopted? Was it a domestic or international adoption? Closed or open?
Kristin: Our oldest daughter was adopted from Guatemala — it was a wonderful, beautiful experience! We waited 16 months and brought home a precious little one. From start to finish, it was one of the best experiences of our lives! God was so close at every step. The LORD taught us HOPE!
Seven years later, we felt the stirring again to adopt, and began the process again with our agency – this time, we were open to anything: domestic, foster-to-adopt, international. The day before our first meeting with our caseworker, we received a phone call from a family friend about a birth mom that was due to give birth to a boy soon, and would we be interested? She said she had been praying for the baby and heard the LORD whisper our names. We just knew this was God. It is a private, open adoption (we know both birth mom and birth dad). One of the biggest blessings was that I got to be in the hospital room when he was born–the hospital gave us our own room, so we had skin-to-skin time immediately and we got to bring him home from the hospital. The LORD taught us JOY!
Seven short months later, we were just coming up for air from our “newborn” experience (lol!). We received another phone call from a friend about a little girl named Isabella. Isabella was four years old and had lived with four families at that point. She had been adopted by a family through CPS and it was disrupted, so she came to us via a “re-adoption.” I honestly had never heard of this before, and it was very painful and difficult for all of us to process. It has been two years, and each day has been strenuous. Isabella has attachment issues that impact her on a daily basis. Life is hard for her. She has made HUGE strides, but our family is forever marked by this precious little girl — we are still learning how to parent her most effectively. God is teaching us GRACE!
C&T: How did you decide the when and where of your adoption process?
Kristin: When we received the undeniable call to adopt Madalyn (it was EVERYWHERE we turned!), we knew we wanted to adopt internationally and from Latin America. We had done short-term mission work in Peru, so thought that might be an option. We went to an info meeting at the Gladney Center for Adoption since it was down the street — and walked out of the there three hours later sold on them and their Guatemala program! The other two precious ones came to us through private adoption — people who knew our hearts for adoption. We had two or three other opportunities to adopt privately that never came to fruition. God places children in the homes He ordains!
C&T: What have been the top 3 challenges of your experience?
Kristin: Our first two adoptions were marked by joy, hope and light. It was full of all the beauty that adoption can bring. When we met Isabella, we got to experience the other, very real side of adoption: brokenness, heartache, pain, loss, rejection, shame, grief. It has been an experience that has changed us, strengthened us by breaking us – but it is a privilege to have a front-row seat in watching Him transform her heart.
Madalyn: Madalyn struggles the most with identity; she has a strong love for her Guatemalan people, and a heart for the lost; she sometimes feels “guilty” for celebrating July 4th, for instance – so we make sure to celebrate Guatemala in all the ways we can.
Corban: Having an open adoption has its challenges. We have recently had to stop seeing the birthparents due to personal decisions they have made – choices that we don’t feel best to have our kids be around. I think I have had to understand my role as Corban’s mom and trust that the LORD placed him with us and that its okay for us to keep him healthy and safe.
Isabella: Adopting out of birth order does impact a family unit! We didn’t realize it until afterwards, and its His plan of course, but we did have to adjust. And we had to learn a whole new language (vocabulary, brain-based study, parenting techniques, etc.) concerning adopting a child from a hard place.
C&T: What have been the top 3 joys of your experience? Kristin: Realizing that Jesus wants to know and save each one of these kiddos is the PRIMARY JOY! He plucked them for all different reasons out of their families of origin and placed them with us where He would be pointed to as the Way! It’s the Gospel before us! And helps me understand my salvation as His adopted child so much better!
C&T: If there is one thing you would want people to know about the process of adoption, what would it be?
Kristin: Wait on the LORD, hear from Him and if He gives you a call to adopt, get on board — it will be a wild ride!
C&T: What has been the most helpful post-adoption resource for you?
Kristin: Hands-down it would be Karyn Purvis’ blog The Connected Child. Another great blog resource has been Thankful Moms.
C&T: How did you/do you want to be supported before and after the adoption took place? Kristin: Our biggest needs today are prayer and respite care. Isabella’s special needs impact all of us on a daily basis – the biggest being a drain on energy and depletion of joy (being completely honest!). We are blessed to have family and friends nearby who take the kids so Greg and I can have a date once in awhile.
C&T: What would be your advice to someone else going through the same experience?
Kristin: One of the biggest suggestions I can give is to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! And, SEEK HELP! My husband was pivotal in deciding it was time to put the girls in school (we have homeschooled previously and have chosen to place our children in public school next semester) — he came to my rescue! It is hard for this former perfectionist to ask for help! I am a little nervous, but also excited to see what the LORD has planned for the girls as they start school. I just get to be “mom” and that makes my heart sing!
The other biggie is DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR MARRIAGE! We were pastoring a church during all of this transition of growing our family (my husband was bi-vocational), and through a series of God-ordained events, the church plant we were pastoring ended peacefully. We can see God’s Hand of provision and tender love in letting that go in our lives — we were running below empty, on ALL levels. Sometimes our biggest disappointments become His biggest blessings. We have since found a wonderful church home and are beginning to purposefully work on our four walls, starting with our marriage, which always took a back seat to parenting and church work. God is good, faithful and omnipotent!
C&T: Do you have any blog links/websites/fundraising links we can share for you?
Kristin: A dear friend who worked as an advocate for Corban’s birth mom is adopting twins from Taiwan: adoptingtheekpos.wordpress.com
Kristin Campbell makes her home in Fort Worth and loves Jesus, His creation, coffee, and doing anything with her husband, Greg. They have have been married sixteen years and make their home with three beautiful kiddos, Madalyn, Isabella, and Corban. They are about to make a move to the country so life is about to get quieter and slower. She is looking forward to seeing the stars at night!
This week, we have chosen to focus our posts on adoption- in honor of National Adoption Month. During the next week, we will share the stories of five different women whose lives have each been radically impacted by adoption.
Hope and I (Laurel) met years ago through a homeschool choir ministry and, since then, have had a fun ebb and flow of interests and life phases, through photography (we studied photography from the same school – and she was our wedding photographer!), home-based business, and now as moms of two rambunctious boys each. Hope and her husband Caleb are currently pursuing adoption of a sibling group from Central America. I’ve so appreciated her open, honest, and Gospel-centered perspective on the entire process — and I am so grateful that she has willing shared this journey with you all through this guest post, even in the midst of extensive and time consuming paperwork. Thank you, Hope! (P.S. Make SURE you make time to visit her Etsy shop, full of beautiful artwork that Hope has created. The proceeds benefit their funding for their adoption process.)
C&T: What are the current demographics of your family? Hope: We have two boys! 4 and 2 years old, and we are seeking to adopt siblings from Costa Rica. While we don’t know what their ages will be yet, we expect for birth order to change.
C&T: What led you to consider adoption? Hope: Honestly, I have had the desire to adopt for so long, I don’t even remember when it first began! It has always been a talking point for my husband and I, from the time we were first together. As God brought us closer to the point of being able to adopt, we also grew in our spiritual understanding of our adoption through Christ and became passionate to care for people in suffering. At that point, our prayers changed from wondering if we should adopt to asking God for direction on how to act on that desire. God has been so gracious to confirm our direction in so many ways. There are many threads throughout our lives – things we did not see at the beginning of this journey – that we now see God wove together beautifully to prepare us for this calling. The story isn’t done yet, and I’m excited to see what the Lord has in store for us – both difficult and beautiful.
C&T: Did you foster before you adopted? Was it a domestic or international adoption? Closed or open? Hope: We have not fostered before, but we definitely considered it as one of the possible routes for adoption and remain open to it for the future. For various reasons, we settled on international adoption from Costa Rica. I will say when you are faced with the decision of which “route” to take, it can be heartbreaking to have to choose as you become more keenly aware of the need and saying yes to one feels like saying no to another and you wonder if you chose the right thing. Ultimately you have to remember that orphan care, in whatever amount, is needed and necessary. There are all kinds of kids from all kinds of places that need love and care. There is no wrong choice.
C&T: How did you decide the when and where of your adoption process? Hope: Our ages and the inter-country adoption requirements narrowed down the field considerably. There were so many other factors involved too, like timing (how long did they estimate the process would take?), cost, how long the out-of-country stay was, etc. Adopting through a Hague convention country was also important to us. We talked a lot with our agency, and they were able to advise us some on what kind of placements they were seeing from different countries and how the kid’s needs might mesh with our abilities. Ultimately, when we realized we wanted to adopt two kids, based on what we learned about the different country programs, Costa Rica was the obvious choice. That decision wasn’t finalized until several months into the process, though.
C&T: What have been the top 3 challenges of your experience? Hope: Well, we are only half way through this process, but this is what I came up with so far:
1) The timing of paperwork doesn’t always go as planned. And sometimes for no good reason! You just have to be patient.
2) Saving/raising enough money fast enough. I will add to this though, that the money has always been there right when we needed it!
3) With 2+ years of waiting, and all of the heavy knowledge you acquire during the process, there is a lot of temptation to worry. It’s a fairly unique situation in life, because you stare down an intense life change ahead of time, knowing that it carries trauma and grief with the beauty. But! It builds your faith. You absolutely have to bank on the fact that when God has called you to this, and you know He is undeniably faithful in character, then he will sustain you through whatever happens.
C&T: What have been the top 3 blessings of your experience? Hope:
1) Getting to share with others why we are adopting and it opening a lot of conversations. Also seeing them catch the vision for orphan/foster care.
2) Getting to see my kids hearts be more open and thoughtful to loving others, especially those in suffering.
3) How much it has built our faith already!
C&T: If there is one thing you would want people to know about the process of adoption, what would it be? Hope: It’s normal to be fully committed and yet afraid at the same time. I have been so comforted by many adoptive mamas who have gone before and said even as they were landing in the country – they were scared spitless! It’s a crazy emotional process, and you’ll feel it. Adoption is a lot to process, both practically speaking with the paperwork and finances, and also with processing all of the education and mental/spiritual preparation needed to take on parenting kids from hard places. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it! Just know where you anchor and hope is, and don’t be afraid to reach out for support.
C&T: How do you want to be supported? Hope: Right now so many forms of support are an encouragement. I feel like different people in our lives are given different abilities to support us, and each one is meaningful and important. Monetary gifts are incredibly humbling and needed (Caleb and I both work 2-3 jobs right now each in order to avoid debt), but also when a friend takes it on themselves to learn about trauma parenting so they can better support and understand what we are undertaking, that means an incredible amount as well. Prayers, words of encouragement…we’ll take it all! After the adoption, I’m sure words of support and encouragement, meals, a listening ear, and respite will be really important for us.
C&T: What would be your advice to someone else going through the same experience? Hope: If God has laid on your heart the desire to adopt, don’t let cost be the inhibiting factor against it. Even though the math never quite worked out in our heads ahead of time, step by step it IS working out. There are so many great resources out there for parents wanting to adopt debt-free, as well as interest-free loans and benefits from employers.
Also, find other adoptive moms you can talk to who have walked the road before you. Their wisdom and encouragement is invaluable!
I’m Hope Helms – a wife, mom, artist and entrepreneur. I love Jesus, and nothing gets me more excited than infusing creativity and simplicity into every day life and inspiring others to do the same. Most days you’ll find me doing ordinary mom related tasks, including homeschooling, with a bunch of coffee, mac ‘n’ cheese, and messy art thrown in. All while I dream about business strategies and creative projects that may or may not ever happen!
This week, we have chosen to focus our posts on adoption- in honor of National Adoption Month. During the next week, we will share the stories of five different women whose lives have each been radically impacted by adoption.
I (Ashley) first met Elisabeth Ream in February 2012, on my first trip back to Saint-Marc, Haiti, following my move back to the States towards the end of 2011. The Reams were partnering with the ministry I was on staff with and had moved to Saint-Marc at the beginning of 2012, from another area in Haiti. Through our acquaintance, I have grown an immense respect for her family and knew she was the perfect person to share an honest take at international adoption from someone has lived in-country during the process. Elisabeth & her family continue to serve & live in the area, where Elisabeth’s tender heart continues to be a blessing to many.
C&T: What are the current demographics of your family? Elisabeth: We are the Ream Team! There are six members on our immediate team, though we have many extended family members! Our family is colorful. We like to say we have black, brown, tan and white children- one of each color. We live on a small island in a third (borderline fourth) world country. It is actually more expensive than the U.S.A. to purchase many things because most things have to be imported across the ocean. We somehow live on half of the budget that we used to in America. I’m not sure how other than God’s grace, mercy, and sovereign arms embracing us continually.
C&T: What led you to consider adoption? Elisabeth: I’ve considered adoption for as long as I can remember considering children. In our first serious conversation, leading up to our marriage a year later, we talked about the possibility of international missions and also adoption. I asked my future husband very early on how he would feel about adopting a child who needed a family. His heart wanted the same. We remember praying together and wondering, even asking out loud, if perhaps there was already a child born into the world that would one day need our family. It is amazing to think about that conversation that took place seventeen years ago, as I look at our seventeen year old daughter! She had been born five months prior to our conversation and her biological mother passed away within that year. However, it would be another ten years before we would lay eyes on the child we had prayed for that night. During those ten years we thought and prayed about adoption many times. Year nine, we began to seriously pursue researching adoption options and praying more earnestly over where and to whom God would lead our family specifically. We had two boys born into our family by this time. God opened our oldest son’s heart to adoption during a time when we did not feel we had the energy or financial resources to begin to pursue it. Ethan’s persistence encouraged us to begin our adoption journey. Ethan believed he had a sister struggling somewhere out there and that we needed to find her. When he first saw our referral picture of our daughter, Elita Marguerite, he said, “That’s her! That’s my sister!” We believe, that if you have biological children, the decision to adopt should be their decision as well. We are thankful that our bio boys embraced adopting, even adopting internationally and out of birth order, in a way that only can only be explained by God’s Spirit speaking to them and bringing peace that surpasses understanding throughout the very difficult adoption process that was to come.
C&T: Did you foster before you adopted? Was it a domestic or international adoption? Closed or open? Elisabeth: We did not officially foster through our state of Texas, which is where we began our adoption process. However, my husband’s job for the first ten years of our marriage was in church youth ministry and I worked alongside him. We always had kids in our home and occasionally there were cases where we temporarily fostered some of the kids we had built relationships within the youth group. We have family and many friends that have fostered and fostered to adopt through state foster care. My sister has fostered several children and my children have four cousins who have been adopted out of foster care. Our family’s decision to pursue the adoption of an older child stemmed from our years working with pre-teen and teenage youth, as well as watching our cousins and my best friend adopt older children who had little hope of ever having a family otherwise. We chose to adopt internationally because of our previous experience living in other countries (Fiji and Israel) and desired to live outside the U.S. with our family as missionaries one day. We felt that because of these factors God had positioned us (with a lot of grace) to parent older children, adopted internationally. The country we adopted from does not permit open adoptions. However, after the adoptions were completed we were able to make contact with members of our girl’s biological families and learn more of their histories. Also, without going into too many details of our crazy adoption story, I will say that in a way we did foster our adopted daughters. However, this happened in a backwards way after they legally received our last name. They were able to leave the orphanage and live with us permanently after we had received legal residency to work in their country of origin, which enabled us to “foster” them for the remainder of their adoption process until they received their immigrant visas to travel with us to the United States. In this way, our adoption process was similar to those who have fostered children they have later adopted. We simply were fostering our adopted children that we could not yet bring to the United States.
C&T: How did you decide the when and where of your adoption process? Elisabeth: This was a tough one for us. We kept asking ourselves, “How can we pick a country or a specific child out of millions needing forever families?”. This question burdened us for years. Finally, we just decided we had to start somewhere. We began researching several countries to see if we met their criteria for international adoption. We looked into adoption from India, Nepal, China, Korea, Ukraine, Ethiopia, and Haiti. We are not Hindu or Muslim, so we were not permitted to adopt from India. Nepal closed international adoptions shortly after we began seriously inquiring. China had a seven years waiting list at that time. Korea was a definite option that we checked into but never strongly considered. We had strong connections to adoptions in Ukraine and had observed children who were in orphanages come on hosting trips to our hometown and later be able to be adopted by many friends to whom we are close. However, adoption from Ukraine required lengthy and costly trips to Ukraine. This was out of the question considering our job and financial situation at that time. Ethiopia was at the top of the list because we had (and still have) a sponsor child in Ethiopia and were very drawn to the country. Alas, Haiti. The very last place a person should consider adopting from unless you are a junkie for braving the hardest things. We seem to enjoy choosing the hardest thing– and then moving there. Haiti’s requirements at the time we began our adoption process were that we had to have been married for ten years, one spouse must be at least thirty five years of age, and have no more than two biological children. These stats spoke to us because they matched us and there was a great need for qualified families to pursue adoption. Many of the children in Haitian orphanages were older or would be by the time their adoptions processed. We understood the wait for a child to come “home” would be years. We read reports of between two and four years before an adoption would most likely be processed to completion. That is exactly how long our adoptions ended up taking. One took two years and the other four years. We began compiling adoption paperwork. Then, the January 12, 2010 earthquake happened. We were not yet matched with specific children at this time. We were contacted by an organization that had reps on the ground in Haiti looking for paperwork-ready families that met Haiti’s adoption requirements. Many children, already matched with families, were released on emergency humanitarian parole to their adoptive families, who were permitted to foster the children stateside while completing the adoption process. We were told there could possibly be a second wave of children, that were pre-earthquake, paperwork-ready orphans, that could also be released to qualified paperwork-ready adoptive families. Our girls’ original referral pictures came through this process. We hurried to prepare our home for their arrival as we were told they could be coming soon and that we would be able to process the Haitian adoptions stateside, instead of in Haiti. This was a huge answer to prayer for us, that the burden of the long wait (not only for us but mainly for the children spending their childhoods in an orphanage) could be lifted. I prepared for a trip to Haiti with several other adoptive families. We were preparing initially that there could be a slight chance the children we were in process to adopt might be able to return with us. However, three days before our departure, the Haitian government abruptly made the decision to cut off humanitarian parole completely. We were stunned but thankful that we had researched the adoption process from Haiti and had chosen Haiti prior to the earthquake to prepare ourselves somewhat for what we would be up against, should we chose to pursue the process further. I went ahead with my trip as planned and met the girls for the first time. I went in the knowledge that I would not be bringing anyone home and not knowing when our timeline would be able to start. Leaving them the first time was hard. Leaving them the fifteenth time was excruciating. It was the hardest thing we have ever had to do knowing what we knew. We lived in Texas the first year and ½ while the adoptions were processing (or were supposed to be) in Haiti. Then we lived in Haiti for six months while the adoptions continued to progress before the girls were able to come live with us instead of the orphanage.
*The laws governing the Haitian adoption process and requirements for adoptive families has changed since we adopted. The requirements have lessened but the average wait time has tragically not.
C&T: What were the top 3 challenges of your experience? Elisabeth:
1) I think the hardest challenge in international adoption is being separated from the child, that you feel is your family, by a great distance for a long and unknown period of time. An additional hardship is when you know your child and even more so when they know you. It is like having your heart ripped out of your chest every single day. We didn’t sleep for years. We grieved as if there was a death. Yet our children were very much alive. It is how I imagine the parents of kidnapped children feel. I lost twelve pounds (unneeded at that time) in the first month alone after meeting the girls. I met our adopted children for the first time on April 17th, 2010. The girls were eight and eleven years old at that time. That is old enough to understand time and distance, but not understand why these things were forced to co-exist. When you begin an adoption process with Haiti, you basically have no timeline. The timing of the earthquake added to this challenge, because many of the offices processing adoptions were closed or barely functioning. We submitted our completed dossier anyways. An excruciatingly long year went by before it was even submitted to the first office of many that would begin to process our adoptions.
2) The second biggest challenge was the loss (whether temporary or permanent) of relationships dear to us. International adoptions, especially those that take years, take up a lot of time and energy. This is time and energy you were previously pouring into other relationships. This may be the relationship with your spouse, your children, parents, siblings, best friends, church, social circles, etc. Our adoption process hit pretty much all of our relationships hard. We had been warned by many adoptive families that have come before us that when you begin an adoption, Satan attacks where it will affect you the most. Thankfully, Satan did not win the battle. But it required the fight of our lives. There was little (if any) energy left over for one another and other vital relationships. We were going through the motions. I still feel I gave up my boys most tender childhood years. I simply did not have the energy to enjoy them. Almost all my physical and emotional stamina was being poured into surviving the adoptions. I do not recommend going about it this way. There definitely should have been more balance. But we didn’t know how and the fight was intense. I felt like I could barely breathe most days. I kept thinking about the parable of the lost sheep and how the Shepherd left all the others, just to go after that one that was lost. You know that feeling of panic when you lose something dear to you and you tear up the house and ignore whatever you were supposed to do that day in order to find it? That panic kept me going. The thought of my girls being left all alone in that terrible orphanage kept me fighting. And my Shepherd held me.
3) The third biggest challenge for our family was finances. Living on a youth pastor’s salary (equivalent to a teacher’s) was tough enough. The main reason fear had kept us from pursuing adoption sooner than we did was lack of finances. We were encouraged to not let this be the only reason not to pursue adoption and that there were many financial assistance avenues available, if we were serious and diligently sought those out. We did. We sold ourselves silly that first year. We ran in marathons for adoption, raised money selling t-shirts, coffee, bracelets, raffle tickets, restaurant fundraisers. You name it. We did it. Shamelessly- though I think some of our friends were a bit ashamed and may have thought we had completely lost it. Everyone kept asking when the girls were coming “home”. We had no answer to give them. We felt like most people seriously doubted if they would ever come home. But we just kept doing all we could do on our end. We sold stuff in five different garage sales. We begged for ransom money. We applied for grants and 0% interest loans and got them. It was intense. Friends began to only ask us about the adoptions when they passed us in the halls at church, at the grocery store or the boys’ school. The adoptions seemed to be our main identity during that time. If this question asked for a top four I would say “loss of identity” as number four. I regret that. I wish we didn’t have to push that hard for that long to acquire the finances we needed to move forward for our girls. And then again, I’m thankful we did. It was a ransom I would gladly pay again. After all, Jesus paid the highest price so that we could become His children. Although it was a heavy burden, I’m thankful we had to work long and hard and pay a high price (financially, emotionally, physically, relationally) for our girls to not only become our children, but to eventually accept the price and free gift of salvation their Heavenly Father paid for them, as well. The lessons we learned the hard way were worth it. Our girls were worth it. We learned to wait on the Lord like never before and trust His plan, even when we could not understand any of it. Mother Teresa once said, “I have found a paradox that if I love until it hurts, there is no more hurt, only more love.”
C&T: What were the top 3 joys of your experience? Elisabeth: 1) Meeting the girls for the first time. I looked into their beautiful faces and knew they were my daughters. I did not expect them to embrace me as their mother right away. I expected that this would take a long time. But they did. Right away. The first time I held them felt like the first time I held my biological boys after I gave birth to them. These are the most joyous and cherished moments I will never forget.
2) The body of Christ and God’s sovereign provision meeting our many needs in many ways reminded us that we could still keep our joy, even when we were spiritually dry and relationally distant. There were/are people that stuck closer than brothers (and sisters) and shared in our sufferings. This fellowship helped us to count it all joy.
3) Not understanding God’s plan, but trusting and walking through the doors He clearly opened as He showed us that Haiti was/is not only the country we were adopting from, but also the mission field we had been praying and seeking. The process God brought us through in moving our family to Haiti and keeping us here for the last five years has been a joy-filled journey of discovery, learning, and loving beyond our wildest dreams (though at certain times I’m not sure I would have counted that ALL joy).
C&T: If there is one thing you would want people to know about the process of adoption, what would it be? Elisabeth: If you have expectations of timelines, what your experience will be like, what your adoptive children will be like, and what your family will look like after adoption, please hold very loosely to those expectations. Be willing to let them go completely if need be. Usually “if need be” becomes the reality.
If you would have told me, when we began our adoption process with Haiti (with one of our top reasons in choosing Haiti being that we would not have to leave work, home, and family in America for a lengthy and costly period of time), that we would end up moving to Haiti and living in Haiti for the past five years, on top of spending double to process our younger daughter’s adoption completely TWICE, there is no way I would have believed you. And there is a good chance we probably never would have proceeded with adopting from Haiti had we known ahead of time. Don’t let the hard stories scare you. In hindsight, we wouldn’t change our experience for the world. We just needed to change our expectations.
C&T: What has been the most helpful post-adoption resource for you? Elisabeth: Country-specific resources, such as books about Haiti, talking to families who have adopted from Haiti, and especially those who have lived in Haiti, have helped us greatly. Moving to the country our adopted children were born and grew up in has changed almost everything we once assumed we understood. It has helped us to bond as a family in ways we never would have and altered our perspectives to better parent our children from hard places. If there is one thing I can recommend, it is to spend as much time as possible in the culture your child has come from. If at all possible (and depending on the age of the child) do this with your adopted child. If there is a language barrier and the child is older, please do your best to learn some of the language. Our most helpful post-adoption resource has been learning from and living among the people of Haiti.
C&T: How did you want to be supported before and after the adoption took place? Elisabeth: I am not sure I knew the answer to this question at the time I was going through this, before the adoption. It is difficult for anyone to hang out with grieving, desperate people who are in constant survival mode. I’m sure I was not super fun to be around. There were certain friends and family who were always just there, despite my state. I will always be thankful for them. They gave me the oxygen of encouragement when I didn’t feel I wanted any. When your children are living in a dark, rat-infested basement, cold, wet, hungry, thirsty, and scared and you know that this is not just in your nightmares but their actual daily existence that you have personally witnessed AND HAD TO LEAVE THEM THERE, it doesn’t feel right to be cheery or cheered. The surest thing to lift my spirit was each time we learned we were one step closer to getting the girls out of there. When donations of money would come in or friends and family donated their time and energy helping us with yet another fundraiser or watched the boys while I made another trip to Haiti, we truly felt supported because this helped us get one step closer to our girls.
C&T: What would be your advice to someone else going through the same experience? Elisabeth: After the adoptions, our lives had changed so much in every way I am not sure this answer is relatable to most adoptive families. But I do know that after the adoptions, I no longer wanted my identity to primarily be tied up with the adoptions that had pulled me out of healthy relationships for so long. I wanted friends to share with me about normal things like their kids’ little league or their new pet. I didn’t so much want to talk about dark and scary basements full of rats and children, the corruption that happens to you in an international adoption process, and the people who you once upon a time believed would be your biggest advocates but became your biggest enemies. No matter where you adopt from or live, after the adoption you are in yet another version of survival mode. You could call it a “transition” or “a season”. But whatever you call it, it probably is not going to be called “pleasant” or “peaceful”. Yet, pleasant and peaceful is what you will be craving after completing an adoption and no amount of chocolate or coffee is going to make up for it. The tendency then is to gravitate toward those who you feel understand what you are going through. So naturally, adoptive parents talk to other adoptive parents (whether in person or finding one another in private online adoption groups) about the hardest of things. These friendships are a lifeline. But they can also be very heavy. Lighter friendships that talk about other things besides the gravity of adoption-related issues are a needed support as much as those who are in the thick of it with you. Keep the lightweight relationships afloat and don’t let yourself believe that someone else’s issues are trivial compared to yours. You need them more than you think you do. Nevertheless, it is a difficult task. If you find it is an impossible task, at least try going somewhere light with your heavy talk friends. Talking through the hard stuff while sunbathing at the pool or beach helps lift the heavy a bit. If you cry you can blame it on the saltwater or the sight of grandma wearing a bikini and you will probably end up laughing at some point by the end of the day. The point is to go home lighter and be light to your family. The best way to do this is not to rely on your family and friends to carry this burden for you or try carrying it yourself. Just give it to Jesus in the first place. He says in Matthew 11: 28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Years after the adoptions I would say that support through awareness plays a huge role of support. There are too many things we were not aware of when we began our adoption journey. Our hope is to use those negative experiences to help other families not have to go through some of the unnecessary hurts and hardships. Awareness is key in that process. Learn and listen to others who have gone before you. Don’t let the hard things you will become aware of (one way or another) scare you away. Allow that awareness to make you stronger for the ugly task and beautiful journey ahead.
Elisabeth Ream has lived in Haiti, working as a missionary alongside her husband, Eric, and four children, Elita Marguerite, Esmée, Ethan and Evan, for the past five years, serving under Heart of God International Ministries. Leaving everything to follow and share Christ has been the most intensely rewarding experience for the Ream Team. Eric’s heart is to equip Haitian Pastors and leaders with the Biblical education they need to share God’s Word with their people well. Elisabeth’s passion is orphan prevention and family preservation. Alongside Haitian partners, she co-founded a women’s ministry and microloan business program called KOFAEL which helps to “create more options, not more orphans” in Haiti.
-The Ream Team shares about living in Haiti and ministry to the Haitian people at reamteaminternational.org. -To find out more about their mission organization, visit HeartofGodInternational.org, where you can also find links for more information on “The Ream Team”. -Visit Kofael.org to learn more about the orphan prevention and family preservation ministry the Ream Team has co-founded alongside Haitian partners. KOFAEL is a growing, successful ministry that has helped hundreds of vulnerable Haitian children be able to stay with their families. -During the adoption process, Elisabeth blogged throughout their journey on at chosenandmuchloved.blogspot.com.
Decorating for Christmas has always been a serious business and this year is no exception. We’re breaking all of the good American rules of Christmas decorating and putting up our Christmas trees BEFORE Thanksgiving. Yes, I said trees- plural. We take Christmas decor seriously in our home.
While I don’t expect you to deck the halls to the tune of five Christmas trees, like we enjoy doing, I do expect you to check your Scrooge at the door and add some festive touches to your home. So, today I’m sharing with you a few simple strategies to get the maximum merry for the minimum humbug (effort).
Focus on your tree. If you’re looking to keep things on the minimal side this year, focus your efforts on your Christmas tree. Personally, I love my trees having themes. Our main Christmas tree looks deceptively like Valentine’s Day, with an abundance of hearts. We keep updated pictures of our sons in little ornament frames and a few special mementoes on the tree as well. Another one of our trees (it goes in our kitchen) is all food related, with simple popcorn and cranberry homemade garlands and cut out cinnamon ornaments (recipe here or here) and/or baking soda ornaments. It’s simple and incredibly cozy. Yet another one of our trees is covered in our favorite Instagram snaps from the year. You can read about that Year-in-Review tree here. The bottom line is this, you’ll get the best overall effect from your tree if you take a few minutes to plan which direction you want to go. Also, be sure to place your tree in a prominent spot in your house to feel all of the warmth and glow.
Eye-level impact. There’s nothing at all wrong with string lights on top of the cabinets or festive blankets and pillows nestled into baskets on the floor, but to get more bang for your Christmas-decorating buck, focus on putting trinkets at eye level. Think about it: all of the classic Christmas touches happen right in front of your eyes; the tree, stockings, fireplace mantel, and wreath all hit you right between the eyes. Take advantage of and focus your main efforts on those places.
Consistent style. I find it really helpful to stick with a basic style throughout the house when I decorate. This makes it easy to switch things up from year to year (for example, switching out the entryway table decorations with the mantle decorations) and helps to make the transition from one house to the next (if you foresee a move in the coming few years). A few ideas to get you started are: classic winter wonderland (blue and silver, snowflakes and icicles), glitz and glam (a dressier approach with lots of gold and silver accents), or woodland (plaid, more casual touches, and burlap, baby).
Gift Wrap. Personally, I think it’s hard to beat a wrapped box with a bow. (But don’t get me wrong… I’ll accept your gift if it’s in a bag with tissue paper, too. haha!) One thing I’ve enjoyed over the past few years is buying several rolls of coordinated Christmas gift wrap (I buy it a couple days after Christmas for the following year and save a lot of money). It gives such a nice, cozy effect to see that some thought has been put into the physical appearance of gift under the tree. It’s an inexpensive way to round out the look of your tree.
When in doubt, light the place up. I really think I could be totally content by decorating for the holidays ONLY with white string lights. Take advantage of doorways, arches, cabinets, mantles, ledges, etc. and light the place up with the warm, festive glow of Christmas lights! Also keep in mind that Target has the CUTEST string lights in their Dollar Spot section… Peppermints, woodland moose, mercury glass style spheres, and jingle bell shaped lights are all styles I’ve seen in the past year or two. Most of them are battery operated, which means they can go just about anywhere in your house.
One mandatory rule. There is one rule for Christmas decorating that I encourage you to adhere to: match your Christmas decor plan with your life and schedule. Maybe you have a slower-paced season ahead and can enjoy an extensive decking of the halls. Perhaps you’re in a very busy or stressful season and need to scale way back. Or maybe you have young children and need to really dial it down and keep things baby proof. That’s okay! Do what allows you to keep proper perspective during Christmas and what will allow your family to have the most memorable and relaxing season! For our family, we’re bending a few rules this year…. We’re putting our decorations up before Thanksgiving (I know, I know!) and we’re going lighter on our decor (we won’t put up all 5 trees this time). We have a baby due 10 days into the new year – which means we need decor to come down quickly and easily after Christmas.
Leave a comment below and tell us your favorite Christmas decorating tip!
It’s the first week of November – some of you have been listening to Christmas music for months (some more openly than others), while some of you are stubbornly resisting Yuletide joy until Thanksgiving 2016 is in the books. Regardless, it’s time to start planning for Advent!
Advent is a traditional celebration of Christmas. Traditionally, a candle is lit each Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, while special Scripture passages are read which focus on the beautiful meaning of Christmas.
In more recent years, Advent has evolved into a daily study or family time that focuses in very tightly on the Christmas season with the intention of preparing hearts and minds for the wealth of meaning that Christmas offers, making Christmas a season, rather than just a day.
My young family has found deep joy in celebrating this special season. We’d love to share some advent resources that we’ve found helpful, along with some additional suggestions for a meaningful Advent season.
Journey to the Manger. Every year Focus on the Family creates a free Advent resource for families. In 2014 this was their program. It was incredible! Consisting of a large printable poster and 24 smaller characters to add to the poster as Advent progressed, Journey to the Manger walks families through each key player of the Christmas Story with Scripture passages and review questions that even toddlers can participate in. While it’s not free this year (they have a new freebie to share with us all!), Focus on the Family has made this study available inexpensively for families to enjoy.
All the Colors of Christmas. This year, Focus on the Family is offering a new, free advent resource. It offers preselected Scripture passages, fun family activities, and some beautiful printable coloring sheets for children — or the whole family — to enjoy.
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. This incredibly beautiful book compiled by Ann Voskamp is essentially an exquisite children’s Bible, highlighting the most iconic stories of the Bible and pointing towards the coming of Jesus in the manger. This was our approach for Advent last Christmas. Very simple, it required little to no preparation or supplies, but yet was meaningful.
The Jesus Storybook Bible. A similar idea, the Jesus Storybook Bible has just enough stories in this collection to read one per day in December leading up to Christmas. A favorite of our children year round, this book focuses heavily on the promise of a Rescuer and Redeemer, keeping hearts and mind constantly focused on the full meaning behind Christmas.
She Reads Truth Family Bundle. This year, we’ve selected the Family Advent Bundle from She Reads Truth. In this bundle are special, deeper study guides for mom and dad, with some really fun story cards for the kids. We’re looking forward to seeing how this plays out with our family this year, but I love the idea of my husband and I separately studying the same passages in our own devotional time and then bringing a simplified version to our kids at dinner time or before bed. The children’s cards feature lively, colorful graphics with key Scripture passages and questions (made for several levels, which you can choose depending on the ages of your kids).
Good News of Great Joy. Maybe your children are older, no longer live at home, or you’re simply looking for a solid individual devotional for Advent. Good News of Great Joy takes a slow walk through the Christmas Story and then spends time focusing on all of the important “whys” behind Christmas. This one is available to purchase as a hard copy, but Desiring God has made the digital copy available for free download.
Prophecies of Jesus’ Coming and Fulfillment. Another idea is to, as a family, read an Old Testament prophecy of Jesus’ birth and the text marking the fulfillment. There are many resources available for this approach (I’m willing to bet that there’s an iPhone app out there, too!) You can find one approach to this advent program here.
As a bonus, I’m excited to recommend four Christmas albums for you to enjoy as a family! What a great way to set a festive mood and keep the truth and richness of Christmas in front of you!
Joy – An Irish Christmas. A couple of years ago, my husband and I saw this incredible couple – Keith and Kristyn Getty – perform their Irish Christmas program. Keith and Kristyn refer to themselves as “modern hymnologists”, writers of new church music that is drenched in theology, Gospel, and soundness. And since they’re both from the lovely country of Ireland, their music has a distinct flair throughout. We love this album for the joy it brings and the truth is keeps in front of us.
The Sounding Joy. Though this album is intended for children, it’s a favorite of all of us in our home. Simple, folksy, and easy-on-the-ears music with favorite Christmas carols and less common Christmas spirituals.
Prepare Him Room. If you’re looking for an album that is deep and worshipful, this is a great one to add to your collection. As a half-and-half mix of traditional Christmas hymns and original songs from Sovereign Grace, this one drives the depth of the season to the heart.
Seeds of Christmas. Our boys have enjoyed the energy of the Seeds Family Worship albums and this year they’ve added a new one to their selection. Seeds of Christmas is an EP with six Christmas songs – with lyrics taken directly from the Bible and styled for the enjoyment of children.
Leave a comment below and tell us your favorite way to prepare your heart for Christmas!
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The great outdoors. Sleeping under the stars.Hiking.Cooking on an open fire. S’mores. Crisp nighttime air. Two toddlers.
Whoa, Nelly. Hold it right there. Toddlers? Camping? Are you crazy?
Yep. And we’ve been crazy three times. That is, we’ve taken three camping trips with our little brood. Our first trip as a family was just a weekend away at a nearby state park with my husband’s family. Our boys were 6 months old and 2 1/2 years old. The second trip was a weekend away – just the four of us – for my husband’s birthday. Our most recent camping trip was a 9 DAY event – it was an organized retreat of sorts. For perspective, our definition of camping is tent camping at a water/electric site.
We’ve learned a lot from each trip and today I want to share those things with you, so that you can also enjoy successful camping trips with your youngsters.
–Pack extra flexibility. Expect overtired kiddos, early naps, a restless night here and there, and lots of memories. Pull out the flexibility to make them good memories. Your camping trip will be different from your pre-kid trips, but they’ll be fantastic if you come with the right expectations.
–Careful campsite selection. If you have potty trained littles, pick a spot within just a short walk of a bathhouse. I prefer clearer spots away from water and brushy areas…. just for peace of mind. We also try to avoid busier areas if possible. Toddlers are going to wander a little – even under close supervision – and if we can avoid them wandering to busy streets, we can all rest a little bit.
-Which brings me to another point… Take a sharpie and write your camp site location on your toddler’s hand. That way – God forbid – should they wander off, they can easily be returned to their family.
–Dirty kids. This is something we’ve got to improve our game in. Expect your kiddos to get grimy – and enjoy letting them have the opportunity to do so. Just bring along a plan for a way to wash them. Both of my boys are gun-shy around showers – which is about all you’ll find in a bathhouse. My plan of attack next time is to bring a simple plastic bin to prepare some warm (an electric kettle really simplifies the camping life!) soapy water and a big stack of clean wash cloths and towels so we can make sponge baths happen nightly and have clean kids without the unpleasant shower experience. Also, bring SEVERAL changes of clothes. I can’t count how many times our boys have gotten muddy or wet to the point that a change of clothes was mandatory.
-Bring a collapsible high chair or a booster that will securely strap to a picnic table or folding chair. This most recent camping trip, we had some major issues with our youngest (21 months) playing the old popcorn game (up and down, up and down…just sit down and eat already!) during just about every meal. It dawned upon me – too late- that he’s used to being confined in a highchair during meal time and he’s just not ready for the freedom of sitting in a chair without straps during meals. Also, think through a plan for a table of some sort (If your child is in a booster, they’ll have a tray of some kind). My 3 1/2 year old’s lap isn’t big enough to balance a large paper plate. We found it helpful to drag an ice chest over next to his camp chair to make a little table for him.
–Pack snacks. Lots of snacks. Camping usually involves a LOT more physical activity than most of us are used to at home… which means ravenous appetites. Granola bars, yogurt cups, applesauce pouches, and crackers all make quick and easy snacks. I’d also advise packing some juice boxes. My boys are great water drinkers, thankfully, but I still find it helpful to have something extra (and tempting for them!) to encourage them to stay hydrated. If you’re concerned about the extra sugar, the Honest juice boxes can be a good option, as they’re not nearly as sugary.
-We enjoy picking out a special camping chairs and sleeping bags (for those old enough to not sleep in a pack-n-play) for our kiddos. It makes it fun for them and makes them more likely to sit/sleep in their designated spot. We found some cute patterned items at Walmart for great prices and they’ve held up over several trips.
–Pick your season wisely. We’d take a chilly fall camping trip over a warm spring/summer trip any day. It’s darker sooner, which means greater bedtime success and it’s cooler, which means our boys sleep better/later because their warm, snuggly blankets feel so good.
–Camping with little ones isn’t the time to go hardcore and really rough it. Don’t hesitate to pack a small space heater to warm your tent up before bedtime, if you expect cold nights.
–Take a sound machine. It can drown out so much noise – cars driving by, new arrivals setting up camp, or the loud card game going down at the campsite next to you.
–Prepare for the elements and unexpected, like rain or bug bites. Rain boots, Crocs, or flip flops can really help if there are puddles to splash in or mud to run through. A lightweight hoodie is going to be a lot more practical and effective to keep heads dry, rather than trying to keep an umbrella over them. As far as unexpected ouchies and itchies, I make sure to pack my most used, diverse essential oils. Quick, easy, and they don’t take up much room.
-Just like any out-of-town trip, make sure you set your kiddo up for success by packing their favorite (and most critical) routine items… this is not the time to leave the paci, bottle of warm milk, or special lovey behind.
–One thing that we’ve found challenging up until our last camping trip was naptimes! It can be so challenging to young children to halt play and be stuck in a sleeping bag or play pen in broad daylight. I’m not sure I’d sleep very well, either. This last time, I finally found something that works (at least for our kiddos). We buckled our child (only our youngest naps at the moment) into the stroller, laid the seat all the way pack, gave him his nap time usuals (paci, milk, and stuffed puppy), and went on a shaded walk. Each time he was out cold within minutes. You can continue the walk or go back to camp and park in the shade at your campsite for the remainder of the nap. Obviously, this is what worked for one baby…. and the solution for your child might be different, but think about your plan before your ever leave home and set your toddler up for success.
-If you plan to do some light hiking, come prepared with either a good stroller or baby carrier.
-For two of our camping trips, we had a baby who was not yet walking. Having a pack-n-play for the baby to play in helped keep him happy while hanging out at the camp site. Also, bringing along a cushy picnic blanket to put on the grass helps give them a clean and protected area to crawl around on.
-For us big people, sitting around and drinking a cup of coffee might be enough entertainment, but little ones need variety. I pack a variety of outdoor toys when we camp… a ball to kick, trucks to roll around, and something to dig in the dirt with will all be helpful.
–My in-laws are awesome campers. Seriously. They’ve spoiled me forever. One of my favorite things they do is set up a large tent to be the kitchen. It’s a great place to store ice chests, prepare a cup of coffee (again – an electric kettle will be your friend!), contain kiddos while you tackle food prep, etc.
– Danielle C. tells me that when they go camping they have a small tent (2 person size) that is the designated game tent. They clean up the kids, get them ready for bed, and then let them go to town with games, flashlights, coloring books, etc.
-Rachel reminded me of a great tip… Pack a TON of baby wipes. They’ll make clean hands and freshening up before PJs so much easier.
-Holly and Rachel both suggested keeping a toddler potty at your campsite. That sounds like a really great and simple solution if you’d rather not venture out for 2 am potty trips with your kids.
-Ashley suggests the following, “As for bathroom issues, we camped close to the trees and the boys just went and did their business there during the night. I have a woman’s funnel that I bought off Amazon called a P-Easy that [my daughter] and I use. I know! Weird! BUT it works Amazingly well! I would just use an empty water jug with a lid to use the bathroom in and keep a Thieves cleaner bottle close to clean everything. I don’t like getting up during the night so it saved me from having to make a lot of noise leaving the tent .”
-Danielle P. agrees that bringing an abundance of outdoor toys will be helpful. She says her kids especially enjoy having every kind of sports ball available for play time. As a bonus tip, she suggested making sure each child has their own flashlight. (We’ve found some good little ones for $1 each at Walmart.)
-Camarell suggests simplifying your trip by doing as much food preparation ahead of time as possible. Some tips she offers are premixing pancake batter or cracking eggs into a container before you ever leave for your trip.
–But will my children sleep? Yes. They will! Just remember to set them up for success – don’t leave behind their normal bedtime routine, pack a sound machine, bring favorite blankies and lovies to make their sleeping bed or pack-n-play feel as much like home as possible. We’ve had a cumulative two weeks or so of nights spent camping with our sons and have had maybe two rough nights. Your children are going to play SO hard that they will be completely wiped out come bed time.
–What about campfire safety? We teach our boys to not go near the fire pit, even if there is no lit fire. While on our most recent camping trip, however, I saw a family that have built a barrier – a short fence of sorts – out of scrap wood (it wasn’t this sophisticated, but here’s an idea to get you started). Just be sure to do enough to prevent little ones from toppling over and getting hurt. But ultimately, if you’re nervous about this aspect of camping, skip the fire. There is not set-in-stone law that requires a campfire and there’s nothing that says that you won’t have a fun trip without the campfire.
Leave a comment below and tell us YOUR best tips for camping with toddlers!
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Should you order through these links, we will receive a small commission off your purchase from Amazon. Don’t worry- this does not affect the purchase price of the product. Thank you for helping support this blog so that we are able to continue bringing you fresh content!
Over the past couple of years, we’ve been a part of some fun, themed potluck dinners with a ministry we serve with. As the weeks have gone by, coming up with a solid list of dinner theme ideas can serve to stump some, but I have loved it! If you’re looking to hold a themed potluck-style dinner, look no farther for an extensive list of affordable, simple, fast, & fun ideas. We have you covered!
Let this list get the ideas rolling in your head. Pinterest serves as a great way to provide meal ideas to go along with these themes. There’s no limit to how creative you can be and how much fun you can have with friends and family!