March 30, 2013

Firm Foundations- Bible Verses for the Home

Our house construction is well under way!  We are hoping to move in June.  Several years ago, my friend Rachel posted a picture of their family writing Bible verses in the studs of their home while it was being built.  I filed that away in my mind and decided that if I ever got to build a house from scratch that I absolutely wanted to do that!

This week we decided on the scriptures that meant something to our family and today we took our trusty markers and went to work, writing our prayers on the walls of our home.  It just seemed like a tangible way to build a solid foundation for our lives in this home.

Of course, some of our kids decided that they wanted to suck up to us...

...and some just wanted to draw pictures on the floor...
...but for the most part we kept it to our hopes, dreams, and prayers for our family.
For the Front Door:
*As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  Joshua 24:15
*The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.  The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.  Numbers 6:24-25 (I wrote this one in the door frame since I thought it was a good blessing for coming and going)
For the Bedroom (ooo-la-la):
* Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2-3 (I need reminding of this constantly!)
* Love is patient.  Love is kind. 1 Cor 13
*I am my beloved's and he is mine.  Song of Solomon 6:3
This would also be a great place to write your wedding vows!
For the Living Room:
* "I know the plans I have for you" declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11
* Love One Another.  John 13:34
*The Lord will fight for you.  You need only be still. Ex. 14:14 (I constantly need this reminder to slow down as a family, so I wanted this verse buried deep within the walls in the room where we spend the most time together.)
My husband writing verses on our living room beams.  This may be the only thing in life sexier than a man running the vacuum or folding laundry.
For the Kitchen/Dining Room
* Prayer- Give food to the hungry, O Lord, and hunger for you to those that have food.
                As you satisfy the needs of each of us, make us mindful of the needs of others. -                      -unknown author
*Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2
* Give us this day our daily bread   Matthew 6:11
* And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  Deut. 8:3
For the kid's bedrooms:
*It is not fancy hair, gold jewelry or fine clothes that should make you beautiful.  No, your beauty should come from within you- the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.  This beauty will never disappear and is worth much to God.  1 Peter 3:3-4  (Love this one especially for a young girl's room)
* The Lord your God is with you.  He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you.  He will quiet you with his love.  He will rejoice over you with song.  Zeph 3:17
* Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away and all things have become new.  2 Corinthians 5:17 (We put this one in the room where our foster children will sleep as a reminder that there is healing from the past and a promise for the future)
*I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made! Psalm 139: 14
* I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Phillipians 4:13 

In the laundry room:  (Anyone else need a reminder to look for the positives as you go about your day to day thankless chores?)
* Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Phillipians 4:8
Office: (where my computer will be and this blog will be written)
*Learn to do good.  Seek justice.  Help the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the orphans.  Fight for the rights of widows.  Is. 1:17
Our kids really enjoyed this activity.  Writing on the walls- a typically forbidden task- is so fun!  Even though no one will ever see these, I know that they will be inside the walls that protect my family.  My prayer is that they permeate not only our home, but also our hearts.

Our backyard
And God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it according to their various kinds."... and God saw that it was good.

March 28, 2013

A Personal Brand Of Happy

If only...
...I could bottle...
...this child's pure joy.  And give it to everyone we knew...
...the world would be that much more amazing.

March 26, 2013

A few minutes with Rita Soronen- Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption CEO

The foster care system is complicated.  I think that is something that we can all agree on. It is political, understaffed and difficult and at the center, there are beautiful, precious children who fall through the cracks.  For the last couple of years, we have rallied behind the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption.  Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's and later, the DTF, was adopted and spent his life advocating for adoption and children.  He built the foundation on the belief that unadoptable is unacceptable and they work tirelessly to educate people about adoption from foster care and find families for some of the most marginalized children in state care- older children, minorities, special needs children.

Since 2001, Rita Soronen has been steering the ship as the CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.  I was given the opportunity to interview Rita about the work that the foundation is doing to children in foster care.  The brilliance of her answers just floored me.  This is an organization that is getting it right.  I hope that you enjoy getting a glimpse into Ms. Soronen's heart and mind.          

Megan:  In your 12 years leading the foundation, I am sure that you have been privy to some pretty incredible, life changing stories.  What one story stands out to you the most?
Rita: First, thank you – it is I who is truly grateful for the opportunity to talk with you!

You are right, we are so lucky to work in this business where we can witness the amazing power of family.  It is at the core of who we are – as individuals and as communities. Each and every day we hear a story that a child’s life has been changed, but just today we received the following email from a parent who worked with one of our recruiters:

 “We are so blessed by the gift your caseworker in ND gave us: Our 16-year-old son. From the conversation about him to our first Skype with him, we felt a connection that I do not think either of us expected so soon. He fits, he is who we have waited to parent our entire life. We love him with our whole hearts. Today we had his unbaby "baby shower" and in two days leave for our first face-to-face visit -- next step home forever. Our son is one of those children who ran the chance to age out of foster care. His history and age made his placement, according to the file, "difficult," but his recruiter never gave up on him. And on December 19th, 2012 we got the call that changed our entire world in a deep and profound way -- we found our son. You will never know the depths of the joy you have all given us, but from our entire beings, thank you”

Megan: Last year on the DTFA Facebook page, I saw a picture posted of the office coffeepot with a note that said something like "Beware, Rita made this" and a caption that noted that the CEO was making the coffee.  In an age where CEO's are sending their assistants on Starbucks runs, that picture told me a lot about the culture of the foundation.  Can you tell me a little bit about how your day runs and the overall culture at the foundation?

Rita: Ha! Coffee is at the start of my day and I do like it just a bit strong! I am so very proud of my small but mighty staff of 16 incredibly talented and passionate individuals who understand the urgency of this work, and to a person, are mission-driven in every effort that they make. Because we are a national nonprofit public charity committed to developing and nurturing effective and dynamic partnerships for the children we serve, my days are rich with coast-to-coast travel, program development and growth, presentations and speeches, meetings (meetings, meetings!), policy planning and advocacy and goal-driven accountability. 

Make no mistake, there are deep challenges that we must confront – tens of thousands of children suffer horrible physical and emotional violence at the hands of those who should be their protectors each day in this country; the child welfare systems in which they are placed are fraught with roadblocks and barriers to their well-being; and state, local and national budget shortfalls too often minimize already scarce resources for children. So as a staff, we work to honor our founder Dave Thomas’ notion that “these children are not someone else’s responsibility; they are our responsibility” by working harder, smarter and with courage to assure a laser-like focus on the needs of the children we serve.

Megan: We all know the top excuses/myths for why people don't want to adopt from foster care. (It's expensive, I'm too old, The kids are too damaged)  What are you doing to dispel those and do you feel like you are making headway against all the false information out there about foster adoption?

We know from national surveys that we commissioned that there remain deep myths and misperceptions about children in foster care, the processes that surround them and even who qualifies as an adoptive parent. We have worked very hard to develop our public awareness campaigns (public service announcements, poster campaigns, social media communications, news releases, etc.) in a way that both subtly and overtly dispels these myths while building support for adoption from foster care. We provide all of our materials free of charge as hard copies or as downloadable versions, including a wonderful piece, “Finding Forever Families: A Step-by-Step Guide to Adoption.”

Based on the increased audiences that are ordering or viewing our communications, the busy activity on 1-800-ASK-DTFA and, the significant growth in conversations on Twitter and Facebook, and most importantly, the more than 3,400 adoptions that have been finalized through Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, I do believe we are starting to see a positive change in perceptions about foster care.

Megan: What do you feel is the number one most pressing issue facing foster children? Facing foster children who are aging out?

Rita: Well, of course, there are simply never enough resources to provide the kind of care these children need. But honestly, we have made a compelling case that by successfully finding adoptive families for children most at risk of aging out of care, we save counties and states literally millions of dollars that could be shifted to family and post-adoption supports. We are too often challenged by public and professional perceptions that these children are too old, irreparably damaged or unadoptable. And we know that by allowing tens of thousands of children each year to age out that they have an elevated risk of being undereducated, homeless, early parents, substance abusers and involved in the criminal justice system. Not because they are “bad kids” but simply because they are forced to navigate this very complex society without the safety net, support and comfort that a family provides –and that every child deserves.

Megan: We have actively been trying to adopt from foster care for almost a year.  When we inquire about children, we rarely get a response from that child's worker.  However, when the child has been represented by Wendy's Wonderful Kids we have gotten a response or follow-up 100% of the time- even if it's just to tell us that we don't meet the criteria for that child. I know that statistics show that having that advocate increases a child's chances of adoption.  What is the process for getting representation for a child?  What are the long range goals for the number of children in the system that you would like to aid in finding families? 

Rita: It is so good to hear that the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters are doing the work that they must do – advocate for children and responding to the potential parents who step forward to adopt. In reality, the child’s case worker should be their strongest and most determined advocate, accepting nothing less than adoption for a child who is available. But we understand large caseloads of children, limited resources, burdensome bureaucracies and the fact so many workers still believe that some children are “unadoptable.”

That’s why we created the child-focused recruitment model and began making grants to public and private organizations across the nation to fund full-time, aggressive adoption recruiters who can be a child’s advocate. We are humbled by the work of the 169 Wendy’s Wonderful Kids adoption professionals who work alongside a child’s caseworker and are those unrelenting advocates for permanence through adoption -- particularly for older youth, sibling groups, children with special needs and children placed in more difficult environments for recruitment (group homes, institutions or other congregate care). Our long-term rigorous empirical research show that is exactly where the model is most successful – up to three times more successful than business as usual for this group of children.

To date, as we have scaled the program into all 50 states, D.C. and four provinces in Canada, we have served 8,916 children, found matches for nearly 6,000, and 530 are in their pre-adoptive placement with 3,433 finalized adoptions. We are proud of these numbers, but every day remember that 104,000 children are waiting to be adopted, and that last year 26,000 children aged out of the system without the families we promised.

Since we started the program, we have set our goal at 10,000 adoptions and I am confident we will get there!

Megan: If you could suggest reform for just one facet of the foster care system, what would it be?

Rita: Focus on the fundamentals – smaller caseloads, child-focused activities, excellent customer service and a commitment to evidence-based programs that are grounded in research rather than anecdote.

Megan: What is your biggest hope for the future of foster care in America and for the children waiting to find families?

Rita: I have thought about this quite a bit – first we have to commit to supporting families and children at the front end, before they become involved in the system. Prevention, support and zero tolerance for family violence must be a national priority. But the moment a child is moved into foster care there must be a commitment to urgency and a community passion for caring for these children as if they were our own. We should have databases full of potential foster and adoptive parents who will step up and take responsibility as soon as a child is in need. The worst we can do for any child is dim their joy, darken their hope or let them believe that they are unworthy of a family. Childhood is fleeting and every child – particularly those most vulnerable -- should be cherished and defended by parents, policymakers, funders, communities of faith, practitioners and business leaders.  Each of us must be an advocate for children.

Megan: Thank you so much for your time and for your responses.  They are powerful, to say the least.  I'm also putting picking your brain over a cup of coffee on my bucket list! 

Rita: I will look forward to a hot cup of strong coffee and great conversation with you!  Thank you!

Please take two minutes to watch this short video- it is incredible!
I'm also writing this week over at What To Expect about the top foster care myths.  We'd like to spread the message that unadoptable is unacceptable everywhere we can!

March 25, 2013

And then I was almost eaten by a pack of wild wolves...

I have an obsession with Little House on the Prairie.  My mom read us the entire set of books through three times when I was a kid.  It was the only show my Granny would let us watch at her house and all of my cousins and I would gather around the TV after lunch to watch Carrie fall in a well or see Nelly Olsen be a punk.  (At my Mamaw's we had "As The World Turns".  That was a feast for the senses.  It's a wonder I don't slap my husband across the face or throw a glass of champagne on him before I sleep with his brother's wife's cousin's boss after all that drama!) 

My LH obsession was so great that in the fifth grade when we had egg day, I had to incorporate my favorite gal, Laura.  We did all kinds of science experiments with eggs.  Finally we had to turn our eggs into a character and my egg was, of course, "Laura Egg-ells Wilder" complete with bonnet and yarn braids glued to it. 

So now, when my kids ask me to tell them stories about when I was a kid, my favorite ones to tell them are the ones that make me sound like Laura Ingalls living on the prairie.  Y'all, if they made a twelve step group for Little Housers, I needed to be in it.  (And for the record, when Melissa Gilbert had all that plastic surgery and changed her whole look, I wanted to cry because it was so un-Laura. At least I recognize that I need help.) 

Me in pigtail braids.  Ob. Sessed.

About a year ago we were roasting marshmallows around the fire pit when my kids asked me to tell them a story from my childhood.  I pulled out one that I had repressed for a long time.  It was a story that would have made Laura proud...

...When I was 9 years old, I almost got eaten by a pack of wild wolves.  Really.  The KY Derby Festival had a hot air balloon race.  The balloons were supposed to fly around, find an x on the ground and then drop a sandbag as close as they could the to x.  Whichever balloon got the closest was the winner. The x must have been pretty close to our house because when my brother and I woke up there were about 50 hot air balloons flying over our back field.  We had giant rolls of hay back there and we took off running and jumped up on those hay rolls to watch the balloons flying over. 

All of a sudden we heard a commotion behind us and a whole pack of wolves came running through the field between us and the house.  I remember panicking and then seeing our neighbor come running out of his house with a gun and waving his arms around like a crazy person trying to scare the wolves off.  The wolves kept running and our neighbor helped us safely into the house. 

When I think back about it, it was one of the scariest moments of my childhood.  I kind of got a little frightened just telling my kids about it.  I hadn't thought of that incident with the wolves in so long and couldn't figure out why it wasn't a harrowing tale that we regaled at every family gathering.  The picture of how it all went down was so vivid in my head it felt like it had just happened to me yesterday.  I brought it up to my dad and the story started to unravel.

"Meg," my dad said, "They were coyotes, not wolves." 

Coyotes.  Hmmm.  Still scary but not as scary as a pack of wolves.  Wolves come in the ware variety.  Coyotes come in the Wile E. variety and chase roadrunners. 

So, I was prepared to be able to tell the story and change the detail to a pack of coyotes.  Then I brought it up to my mom.

"Megan," she said, "It was one coyote."  What!?  Surely she was mistaken.  I clearly remembered an entire pack of wild things running across that field.

So, I was prepared to change the story to the time that I almost got eaten by one lone coyote until my neighbor ran out of his house and tried to shoot it.

But the kicker came last night.  After an entire year of my worst childhood memory coming into a whole different light, my husband met the neighbor who saved me from the wild coyote.  The neighbor said, "That coyote wasn't acting right.  It was weaving and stumbling around!"  He guessed maybe that it was rabid and that's why it was acting so weird but the way he described the movements made it sound like the coyote had one too many beers at Coyote Ugly.  He didn't even remember getting his gun.  He said he thought that he just ran outside and yelled really loud to try to scare it away from us.

I'm beginning to wonder if any of my childhood was as I imagine it.  At this point, my story doesn't even remotely resemble anything from the Little House books.  I wondered if Laura would be impressed if I started my story with, "This one time, I saw a drunk coyote stumble into the backyard..."

Can we just pretend like it was a pack of wild wolves?  My children think I'm so much cooler with wild wolves. *sigh*   

March 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Births

My heart is all tied up in Congo.  It's under my skin and in my dreams.  The women I met there are so gloriously beautiful and resilient.  The land in the capital city is the most bizarre mixture of the garden of Eden and a garbage dump.  The children are just like children anywhere- they want to play and grin and show their dimples and sit on their mom's lap.  It's both the best and the worst of humanity (can't that be said for most places?)  But my heart is there.  Part of me always wonders about what it would be like to live there, to learn from the people there and minister is some small way with the burden God has given me for the Congo's children.  If I was a braver person and more obedient, I would already be there.  Sometimes I think about what I would want to do there and the image in my mind always go back to doing exactly what the people at Heartline Ministries are doing in Haiti. 
 photo credit: Troy Livesay
In my perfect world, that would be me, equipping women in Congo to take care of their children.  Giving them safety and love and truth and knowledge in an area and at a time that just doesn't make sense.  I think back to when I was pregnant with my first two children.  I had a top notch hospital 15 minutes from my house.  I had every pregnancy book known to man and the support of my husband and a whole slew of friends and family.  I was a broke 20 something, but I had access to nutritious food and pre-natal care.  Yet, I was still scared to death.  I can't image if you'd taken away all my safety nets, how I would have felt.  But women all over the world are having babies every single day without a single one of those nets.  Their chances of dying in childbirth are exponentially higher than they are in America.  Their children's chances of living til their fifth birthday are not nearly as assured as ours are.  That's scary.
And that's why I love Heartline so much.  I love that they take care of women with such love and dignity.  I love that they didn't go into Haiti with their American ideals and pretend like they knew what was best for the people there.  They work with the people they serve.  They build relationships.  The women bring their children back to visit years after they've left the program.  For years, I have been following the pregnancy and birth stories of the women at the Heartline Maternity Center. Every single time I see a safe delivery and a chubby little brown baby snuggled up to his mother's breast I can't help but see God. Since the inception of the Millions of Miles vacation raffle, Heartline has been one of the recipients of your donations. (Get tickets and info HERE)  I wanted to share with you a blog post by Tara Livesay (who lives in Haiti and works hand in hand with pregnant moms at the maternity center) so that you can see the impact that your donations are making in Haiti.  Doesn't it just make you excited about all the promise and potential that each of these little babies holds?   

a tale of two labors & two baby girls

by Tara Livesay 

Adonea's sister and mom laboring with her
baby Victoria

Surrounded by family support, Adonea delivered a healthy baby girl Tuesday night at 8pm.

Meet Victoria, she is all kinds of delicious and perfect.

Adonea's friend Edline told her about the program and advocated hard-core-pushy style for her to be accepted. She joined the program later in her pregnancy than most ladies do. Adonea came each Thursday without fail and seemed to enjoy the classes, the camaraderie, and the prenatal consultations.

~ ~ ~
Today, shortly before noon Fabienne arrived in obvious pain. Her contractions were coming quickly.

Fabienne is very young (14) and learned that she was carrying a baby girl when Lori, of Real Hope for Haiti told her last year. Lori referred her to Heartline's prenatal program.

Fabienne lives in an area called Martissant, it is not close to Heartline. She couldn't technically afford to come each Thursday so we worked that out and she's been faithful to attend every Thursday ever since she started mid way through the pregnancy. Fabienne walks perfectly even though she doesn't have toes. She carries herself with confidence even though she is missing most of her fingers. Once comfortable with the program and the ladies in the program, Fabienne ended up being a bit of a jokester.
She is a funny teenager with quick and ornery wit.

By 3:15 this afternoon Fabienne bravely pushed her daughter Lougmine into the world. The room took a collective breath wondering how the young mother would receive her new little one. 
meet Lougmine, 5lbs 10 ounces of more perfection

triumphant after delivering her daughter today

Admittedly, Fabienne's situation feels heavy and difficult. Adonea's feels joyful and light. These two women are separated by more than their ten year age difference. Fabienne owns only a few pieces of clothing and struggles with the basics, like food, water, and shelter. Adonea has a blackberry and asked me to email her the photos from her birth. She will be driven home in her family's vehicle.

While their economic situations are very different, they are also the same in some important ways. They both long for love, friendship, and happiness. They both want the very best for their baby girls. We pray the world is kind to them all. We pray these baby girls will grow up knowing love.

It is an honor to serve both of these women and to come along side them during one of the most important days of their lives. Thank you for the part you play in loving, encouraging, and giving.

(Last week I gave a tour to an American woman, her teenage daughter and son. After the tour the teenage boy asked if Fabienne was doing well, and wondered if she had delivered. I was touched and taken aback that he knew her name and knew she was due soon. Your care and concern for the ladies lifts our spirits and theirs. Thank-you again!)

March 20, 2013

For My Babies- Lessons From Steubenville

Dear Sadie, Noah and Miles

I think that every generation says, "You couldn't pay me to go back and be a teenager again in an age where there is xyz".  Here I am, turning old and saying, "You couldn't pay me to be a teenager again with all the social media!"

Here's the thing.  I love social media.  This here blog?  Wouldn't exist without social media. Even though right now you are too you for things like Facebook and Twitter and whatever the next big thing will be, I know that it won't be long until your friends start using them and telling you that you "need" to be on there too.  Growing up is so hard.  Growing up is even harder where every move you make is being put out into the world for all to judge and watch.  I know that social media and being able to see what your friends are doing 24 hours a day will impact you deeply.

There's a story going on in the news right now about two boys who did something terrible to a girl at their school.  It's a really bad thing.  When the case went before the judge, lots of the kids involved had videos and text messages and things on Facebook about the bad thing that happened.  Those things never go away.  I'm a grown up with lots of common sense and still, sometimes I put things on the Internet that I later wished that I hadn't.  Darlings, while you are growing up, your brains are growing too.  While your brain grows, you'll realize that what you thought was a good idea one day, maybe isn't a good idea the next day. 

I want you all to know that it's okay to make mistakes.  It's okay to change your mind.  It's part of growing up.  But as you grow up in an age of social media, you have to be extra careful.  Here's the big thing- when I say be careful?  I don't mean be careful of being caught.  I mean live in such a way that your integrity convicts you and keeps you from putting yourself in situations that aren't healthy for you.

I'm not dumb.  I know that you are going to try things.  I want you to blaze your own paths.  But there are some things that just aren't good for you and I want you to recognize those things along the way.

Sadie, you may laugh about this now, but when you are a little bit older and you get your own phone, you will learn that lots and lots of girls in high school (and even middle school) take naked pictures of themselves and send them to boys.  They think that it will make boys like them.  I don't know any other way to say it, but to just flat out say, "Don't do it!"  When you are 13 or 15, that boy that you are texting your pictures to is too immature to know what to do with that picture.  He's young and his brain is not developed enough to think about this situation logically.  Despite what he tells you, he may show it to his friends.  Or lose his phone.  Or his parents may see it.  Or he may even post it on the Internet and remember, baby, that things on the Internet never die.  Love your body.  Marvel in the things that it can do.  Be proud of it.  But know that your body is a gift and does not need to be enjoyed by every person that you encounter.

You are my baby girl and while I wish that I could keep you little forever, I know that you have to grow up.  I want you to be a strong woman.  I want you to know that even when you make a bad decision that you are still in control of what happens to your body.  Even when the decisions that you make tell a boy one thing, you still have the power to change that situation and say no at ANY TIME YOU CHOOSE.  You deserve to be respected, no matter what anyone else tells you.  You may feel pressure.  You may feel conflicted.  But when you know something is not right, you have the right to speak up.  And be brave, my dear.  Sometimes when you speak up, people will call your integrity and your morals into question.  Be firm in your position and speak up for injustice when you see it- for yourself and for your friends. Never accept the notion that people will spew into you that "you got what you deserved" because of your past choices.  And by all means, do not be one of the people who spews forth that kind of venom, either.  These kinds of things can happen to anyone.

I want you to be a woman full of morals and a heart that is pure.  But I'm not naive enough to think that temptations won't challenge even the purest heart or that you won't end up in situations that are not good for you.  Keep a good head on your shoulders and treat your body like the temple it was designed to be and demand that others treat it that way, too.  Society's standard for beauty does not have to be your standard.  That is not an easy task, but I am here to support you.

Noah and Miles, you have an awesome responsibility.  Girls are so stinkin' cool.  They are smart and they are pretty and they can be so darn intoxicating.  It's in your nature to be visually stimulated.  When you see something you like, you can't help but admire it.  But hear me on this- admiration does not mean domination

I want you to know something about girls.  We change our minds.  Sometimes girls will show you through word and through deed that they want to do something.  If at any time she changes her mind about that, your job is to respect that.  Respect does not include pressure.  Respect does not include ridicule.  Respect does not include anger.  Respect means that this girl deserves to have her voice heard- even if her voice is shaking.  Do not mistake that shake for weakness.  I know that it's hard to say no.  That girl in a tube top?  Society will tell you that that makes her "easy".  That girl at the party that just drank herself into oblivion?  Society will tell you that now is the time to make your move.  But I'm telling you- respect yourself enough to know that the experiences you have now will shape you and be brave enough to resist.  Human beings make mistakes.  Be the kind of man who does not "capitalize" on people when they make mistakes.  Be the kind of man who can walk away and who encourages others to do the same. Be the kind of man who does not tolerate disgracing women from his friends.  I'm holding you to a higher standard.

Just as I told Sadie that I want her to be a woman with a pure heart and integrity, I want the same things for you.  The world will tell you that you need to be tough.  It will tell you that you need to possess things and people and show yourself as dominant.  While it may seem that those kind of guys get all the girls, as you grow, you will discover that in the end, women want someone who will respect them and treasure them.  When you treasure people, they will treasure you.  I want you to be treasured in your relationships and choose people who will see you as precious- because, my sweet boys, you are precious beyond measure.  Show people how strong and respectful you are through your willingness to not choose the easy path.  That is the mark of a true gentleman.  15 year olds will not see it.  But I see it, sweetheart.  And as you get older, you will see it in yourself.  Be the kind of man that recognizes that respect in a relationship is more powerful than dominance.

I want such big things for all three of you.  So many of the things that happen to teenagers happen because they are searching- searching for acceptance or popularity.  What I want you to know is that those things aren't always the best for you.  We all want to be loved, but realize that when you are seeking it in places that you shouldn't that you find things you wish you hadn't.  Living a life of integrity might label you as "weird".  But you know what?  In the end, it's the people who loved themselves enough to make good choices (and found forgiveness when they fell short) that find happiness in life- and happiness is what I want for each one of you.   

Just know that no matter what, I love you.


March 18, 2013

3rd Annual Vacation Giveaway for Congo/Haiti

Updated 4/8/13  This contest is now closed.  We raised $12,000 for JabuAfrica and Heartline Haiti- thank you so much for your support!

It's time for the 3rd annual Millions of Miles Vacation Giveaway benefiting JabuAfrica and Heartline Haiti!

Both of these organizations are doing life changing work with the women and vulnerable children they serve.  They are strengthening families and empowering communities.  I am proud to partner with them in this endeavor.  They are so deserving of our support!

Two years ago, you all generously gave over $10,000 to help serve women and children in Congo and Haiti.  I just know that we can top that this year!  How do I know that?  Because this year's prize is better than ever!  This year, you have an opportunity to win a week at a luxury, 4 bedroom, pool home through Global Resort Homes in Orlando, Florida just for donating! (Can anyone say hello, Disney World?!)

Our awesome friends at Global Resorts want to make your Orlando vacation a dream come true.  All of their vacation homes have your very own pool IN THE BACKYARD!  And a kitchen... And a living room... and separate bedrooms for the kids!!!  You could do Disney in a hotel room- but wouldn't you rather do it like this:

The winner of this vacation giveaway will win a full week's stay in a 4BR pool home.  The staff at Global will help you choose the home that will meet your needs.  They know that traveling with grandparents or very young children require extra considerations and will help you choose just the perfect house to suit your needs. ** (Our family stayed here last fall and we loved it!  Check out my full review)

We couldn't send you to Orlando without a little something to do when you are there!  The great folks at Kissimmee Guest Services want to give you 4 tickets to SeaWorld so that you can visit Shamu and all his friends.  (If you are ever visiting Disney- KGS is the place to go for discount tickets to everything in Orlando!)

And lastly, we're sending you on an airboat ride through the headwaters of the Everglades from Boggy Creek Airboat Rides.  Your kids will LOVE this!

Who wouldn't want to win this fantastic vacation package?  However, the real reason that we do this is to make a difference in some precious lives!  Let me tell you a bit about the people who will benefit from your donations.

Where Your Donations Go:

Kapanga Feeding Program through JabuAfrica:  The Kapanga Feeding Program is working to provide nutrition to severely malnourished children in the Kapanga region of DRCongo.  Through a vitamin rich peanut paste, they are helping children recover from extreme starvation.  Children in the program receive medical care and mothers in the surrounding village are educated about feeding their children to help prevent children from needing to enter the program.  Nearly 400 children were served through this program in the past year.  They use locally grown peanuts to make the vitamin dense peanut paste and employ local workers so that the program is also providing opportunities for local farmers and bolstering the local economy. 

Heartline Haiti Maternity Center:  Heartline's maternity center is equipping Haitian women to be great mothers and gives them a safe way to give birth. Women can join the prenatal program during their pregnancy and come to the center weekly for monitoring and to receive vitamins, a good meal and an educational class relating to caring for themselves during pregnancy. After the baby is born, often in Heartline's own birthing room, the mother and child move into the Child Development class. This class is designed to teach practical parenting skills to the mothers.  By teaching mothers breastfeeding, nutrition, life skills, and giving them access to medical care, they are helping vulnerable children in Haiti get a great start in life!

 I love both of these organizations because they are working so hard to keep children from becoming orphans and giving mothers opportunities to care for their children instead of taking them to orphanages. Kids belong in families- not orphanages!

HOW TO WIN: If you would like a chance to win the Orlando vacation package, all you have to do is make a donation to benefit these two programs.  Each $10 donation = 1 entry.  example:   $20= 2 entries     $50= 5 entries     $100= 10 entries

Global Resorts, Kissimmee Guest Services and Boggy Creek Airboats have generously donated the prizes so everything we raise will be split evenly between Heartline and Jabu Africa.  You can make your donations by clicking the donate button below and it will take you straight to the donation page.

The deadline for donating and earning your entries for the vacation giveaway is Friday, April 5th.  You have just over 2 weeks to get your tickets!  Please help us spread the word!  If you share about this on Facebook (with a link telling people how to find us!) then come back here and leave a comment on this post, I'll give you an extra entry!  Thanks so much for caring about the beautiful people that this money will help!  Good luck!
View Progress
** Fine Print:  trip must be used before Feb. 15, 2014  Blackout dates: March, April, June-August 15, November 28 -30, December 20 - January 3.

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March 15, 2013

Looking Back

Today, I had the amazing opportunity to go and talk to a super cool group of third graders about life in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Helping kids understand why we should care about Africa is one of my biggest passions in life. 

We used statistics and fractions to figure out what percentage of the class would be able to afford to go to school in Africa.  We talked about access to clean water and I made those kids haul gallons of dirty water around.  We talked about malaria and poverty and family roles.  We talked about how beautiful the cultures and the people are.  We learned a traditional harvest dance (and shockingly, they did not make fun of my uncoordinated, old lady moves!)  We finished up by sharing a meal of rice and beans. 

They soaked it up!  And I learned that I could NEVER be a teacher.  I felt like I needed a nap when I got home and I reminded myself that I really need to figure out a way to send my kid's teachers to Hawaii on a month long sabatical for doing what they do every day. 

I got to wear the dress that I got in Congo (because I firmly believe that if you are going to teach about Africa then you should dress the part)...

...and it made me think about the day that I got that dress.  It was on the third day that I was in Africa picking up that little bundle of joy we had just adopted.  I wrote about that day back when only about 6 people were reading here so I thought that I would just share a bit from that post because I never tire of a story that involves both poop and translucent boobs...

(From March 2010) Miles has a bad case of giardia (parasites) from drinking bad water his whole life. It took the lab 4 days to figure that out for some reason and it has so far taken the pharmacy 4 days to get the medication ordered. Collecting all those poop samples has been the highlight of motherhood for me, let me tell you! Lots of dry heaving was involved. Hopefully we'll finally get to start treating it this afternoon so the kid can stop exploding. And by exploding I really do mean exploding. As in- it's about 8 AM and he is already on his 4th set of clothes for the day. This is a problem that Miles has had since the day I met him. It is much easier to deal with here in the US where I have a washing machine and running water. In Congo, these spontaneous poop combustions were a nightmare- except for one time that turned out to be the most humorous part of the trip...

Did you notice the fabulous Congolese dress I had on in the pictures of my visit to the orphanage? The dress was bought out of serious necessity! When we went to the market to buy the beans to take to the orphanage, Miles had the worst blowout in blowout history in the taxi. Unfortunately, he was on my lap when this happened. To say that I was covered in poop would be the understatement of the century. It went from my knees to my chest and soaked all the way through my clothes. Yep- I was knee deep in it. I had a change of clothes for the baby, but nothing for myself. After about 3 minutes in the heat, flies were beginning to swarm all around me. We were at a food market and there was no clothing to be bought. Once the driver got a good look at me, he drove us to the closest street vendor selling dresses. I walked up to the lady selling her wares in all my poopy glory. I could see in her eyes she didn't want me anywhere near her goods.

I made some gestures to her that I obviously needed to get something to change into. She grabbed something off her display and drug me by the hand back into this abandoned building. She took me into a room the was all empty and concrete and shut the door. This was maybe not the smartest move I ever made, but seriously- a girl covered in flies and parasitic diarrhea will do whatever necessary! Once we were in the room together the woman just kept staring at me. She didn't say anything- obviously she knew it wouldn't do any good to talk to me since we didn't speak a word of the same language. This staring at each other game went on for a good while.

Finally I didn't know what else to do, so I just stripped. When I say stripped, I mean everything- because I was poop soaked all the way through my skivvies. Then the woman made some sort of gesture with her hands that alluded to "the girls". I'd like to think she was paying them a compliment, but more likely she was thinking something like, "Wow- I've never seem anything that white. Those are so white you can almost see through them!" or "Man- those things are seriously droopy! Poor, stupid American!" Once I was naked, more staring. Really- when someone is staring at you naked, 5 seconds can feel like an eternity! I was starting to think, "Ummm, maybe getting buck in an abandoned building with a strange lady in Congo was NOT the right thing to do."

So after standing there completely exposed for a good while while the lady took me and all my lily whiteness in- she finally slipped the new dress over my head. It was enormous, but after the whole experience, I didn't really care or want to try to bargain for a smaller one. And that is the story of how I came to be the owner of my native Congolese duds.

It is like that nightmare where you are standing naked and people are making fun of you. Only add in the third world and tons of poop and that about sums up the experience. Yep- good times in Africa!

This week I'm also posting over at What To Expect- hop on over there and take a peek!

March 11, 2013

I'm Lovin' It Part 642

I get on a "jag" a lot.  Here are all the things I'm currently obsessed with...

FAVORITE RECENT PURCHASE: My  new spring uniform.  If you've been here for any amount of time, you know that I love me some sweatpants.  Sometimes, though, a girl needs to wear real clothes.  About twice a year, I buy a new outfit or two and that becomes my new uniform.  I wear whatever it is to every lunch, to church, on dates and as the top half of myself when I'm on a video conference call (the bottom half that people can't see is sweatpants, duh.)  It's so rare that I do this clothes shopping thing that I have to take a gratuitous picture of myself and text it to my mother and my bestie so that they can remember what I look like when I'm not slumming it.  Here's this spring's uniform:

Whoop there it is.  Complete with hand on hip to make myself appear skinnier since that's what all the cool kids are doing these days.  Normally, my uniform comes from Target, but currently it's all just a little too 80's for my taste- so I splurged at Loft (where the aging 30+ population goes to get older, waaaah!) 

Here it is again from my Granny Sadie's 77th birthday party.  She's one of my other favorite things :)

Rocking this outfit every. single. day.  But seriously- how stunning is my Granny?
FAVORITE CONFERENCE:  Hands down, Summit 9.  This year it will be in Nashville, TN on May 2-3rd.  I'll be speaking there and you should come. (Those two things are not related)  The breakout sessions are unbelievable- everything from special needs adoption to best practices for helping orphans in their home countries to foster care to advocacy.  David Platt will be one of the keynote speakers.  Swoon.  Since the day I read Radical a few years ago, I've wanted to hear him speak.  The boy is on fire. 
Right now, I'm reading Seven by Jen Hatmaker and LOVING it.  She's quirky and relatable and now that I'm 100 or so pages in, I feel like she is my BFF.  It's a phenomenal look at the consumerism in America.
This picture on Pinterest led me to this blog that shows all of the top 100 paint colors in real rooms.  This is changing my life because I can NOT look at paint color swatches and tell a darn thing from it, so it's great to see what the colors look like on an actual wall!  This color is Benjamin Moore Knoxville Gray and it is going in my dining room and office in our new house. 
I'm probably really late to the party on this one, but I'm really loving  It is a site where celebrities read books to kids.  It's great to use when you need to get dinner ready but really don't want the kids to be watching TV or playing Angry Birds.  It's kind of like reading with FLAIR- and the stories they've selected are really great ones!
For just darn good writing: These Little Waves
For all things artsy-craftsy: Two Story Cottage
About adoption and family: Any Mommy Out There

For encouragement: Momastery
"Mom, last night I had a dream that a gorilla was chasing us and was gonna eat us! But then! Him got out he's Bible and it told him not to and we were safe!" - Miles, age 4

And just to leave you with another thing that is my favorite... these people... love.
Got any favorites right now that I should know about???
Find me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

March 07, 2013

Our Sensory Journey and 10 Fun Sensory Activities for Kids

My son, Noah, was almost two years old before I could hold him regularly without him crying.  He started crying when he was two weeks old and didn't stop for almost two years.  He was our second child (the first one had been an angel baby) so I knew that all babies didn't just cry all the time for no reason.  My "mommy gut" told me something was wrong. 

I have thought many times about how I would talk about our journey with Noah on this blog.  It was the most trying 2 years of my life (yes, even more challenging than adoption and attachment disorders).  For a long time, I wasn't ready to talk about it.  I heard Brene Brown at a conference say one time, that when you don't know how to write about something, that it's sometimes best to sit on it and wait until you figure out what you've learned from it, then you can write from a perspective of going through it and coming out the other side.  I took that advice to heart and it's taken me YEARS to decide that I'm on the other side completely. 

In 2006, I gave birth to a gorgeous baby boy, my Noah.  We loved that baby.  We brought him home to his adoring, big sister and counted our blessings. However, that baby never slept or stopped crying.  Occasionally, he would doze off for 30 minutes or so at a time then start screaming again.  I think that I almost wore a hole in the floor walking the loop around our kitchen and living room from 1 am to 4 am every night holding that screaming child.  I was a sleep deprived, defeated mother and I couldn't figure out what in the world was wrong with my baby.  This went beyond colic, beyond teething, beyond reflux. 

My son gagged when he had his milk.  He cried when his clothes were put on.  He cried when the lights were too bright or too dim.  Every action and reaction were a trigger for him.  He cried when you tickled him. He cried when we sat him down and when we picked him up.  Since he had no way to communicate besides crying, he just did that... all the time. 

We started talking to the doctor about it when he was three months old.  We switched formulas.  We switched bottles.  We started giving him medication for reflux.  Nothing helped.  At 6 months of age, we did all the scans of his stomach and esophagus to see if there was a problem.  We figured that if there was something in there causing him pain and we could fix it- he would stop crying and be a happier baby.  The scans didn't show a thing.  All the doctors were dumbfounded.

At 6 months, my baby started to do this:

See all those scratches on his sweet, little head?  He started clawing himself all over.  For a solid month, he scratched constantly.  On the rare occasion that he would sleep, we'd go get him out of the crib only to find the sheets covered in blood from where he'd scratched in his sleep. We tried everything.  We put mittens on him (which only fueled the crying), switched lotions, changed detergent and whatever else we could think of.  For weeks, we even made him wear this super nerdy bandage on his head just to try to get him to stop.

We went back to the doctor.  We discussed that, perhaps, Noah had allergies and that was the reason for all of his discomfort, scratching and crying.  So at 12 months, we had him allergy tested.  Most doctors don't allergy test that young because children's bodies change so rapidly that allergens often change as well.  But as a team (our pediatrician, the allergist and myself) we decided that something had to be done to help my child.  He was so unhappy and we just wanted some answers.

Lo and behold, he had a whole host of environmental allergies.  He started on medications and allergy shots to try alleviate his symptoms.  It didn't help. 

At 18 months, our child still wasn't sleeping and was still crying the majority of the day.  He made no attempt to talk or babble.  He was very delayed across the board for developmental milestones.  We became prisoners in our home because car rides with him were horrific, and the lights at Target were too bright and the highchairs at restaurants would infuriate him.  He acted uncomfortable in his bed, but was equally as uncomfortable in our arms.  It was almost like his sheets were torturing him and our touch was burning him.    When he started to walk, the floor bothered his feet, and walking on different surfaces, like concrete or hardwood would just send him into a tailspin.  He would slam himself into the walls over and over again or beat his head on the floor for what seemed like no reason.  He would go for a few weeks where putting his coat on made him act like a wild animal and then the very next week he would have to wear his coat to sleep because the thought of taking his coat off was too much for him.  If the neighbor down the street would start up his motorcycle, Noah would act like he'd been shot.  Foods made him gag.  Bathing was painful. His "quirks" went way beyond being picky and crossed right over into debilitating. We were completely baffled.

I blamed myself.  (I think us moms tend to do that!)  I felt like I was not a good enough mom to take care of my son.  I felt isolated and angry and depressed. In retrospect, I realize that he did have some great moments when he was happy but as we were living through it, those felt so overshadowed by the trying times that I couldn't even recognize the good when it came. Finally, at 18 months, we started to get some answers.  At his 18 months well checkup, our doctor suggested taking out Noah's tonsils and adenoids.  We though that they might be causing him to not get good rest and that the lack of good sleep was a catalyst for all the other issues we were having.  Taking his tonsils out did help him sleep but he was still miserable.   At our followup appointment, we decided that the next course of action would be to have a developmental evaluation.  The developmental therapist suggested that he start speech therapy because she felt that the remaining crying Noah was doing stemmed from his inability to communicate. 

We started speech therapy right away.  Almost miraculously, our child who had not even tried to talk, started talking in whole sentences.  It was like he'd been storing up.  But he was still so uncomfortable and unhappy.  At one of our speech therapy sessions, the therapist said, "Megan, your son doesn't need speech.  He needs OT (occupational therapy).  This child has sensory processing disorder."

We had never heard of sensory processing disorder.  I couldn't believe that after all the specialists we'd seen and doctor's visits we'd had, that someone finally gave us a diagnosis. I went to Dr. google and started researching.  Web MD said:

Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Sensory processing disorder may affect one sense, like hearing, touch, or taste. Or it may affect multiple senses. And people can be over- or under-responsive to the things they have difficulties with.
Like many illnesses, the symptoms of sensory processing disorder exist on a spectrum.
In some children, for example, the sound of a leaf blower outside the window may cause them to vomit or dive under the table. They may scream when touched. They may recoil from the textures of certain foods.
But others seem unresponsive to anything around them. They may fail to respond to extreme heat or cold or even pain. Many children with sensory processing disorder start out as fussy babies who become anxious as they grow older. These kids often don't handle change well. They may frequently throw tantrums or have meltdowns.
Many children have symptoms like these from time to time. But therapists consider a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder when the symptoms become severe enough to affect normal functioning and disrupt everyday life.

It was like I was reading the history of my child. Things finally made sense.    (For more technical info about Sensory Processing Disorder click HERE) He would slam into the wall because he needed sensory input.  He'd scream when we picked him up because it was too much sensory input, and on and on. We made the decision to see an occupational therapist and it was the best decision that we ever made for our son.  From the outside, occupational therapy seemed a little strange to me.  We were paying for someone to come and roll around on the floor with our child.  But as we began to learn about the nervous system and what types of activities would help calm our child's nervous system and brain responses, we saw him THRIVE. 

Our OT introduced us to things like weighted blankets (which help but pressure on nerve centers and calm the body down)  She taught us exercises that we could do to help desensitize him.  We figured out safe ways to give him sensory input (instead of slamming into the walls) and safe ways to get rid of input when we needed (like wearing sunglasses in brightly lit stores instead of scratching himself until he bled out of frustration.) We learned ways to help him make sense of his environment and he blossomed when he had the tools to help him manage his body.

We did occupational therapy for a little over a year, and in that time, our rockstar therapist taught us everything we needed to know to help Noah manage his sensory processing disorder.  At 6 years old, he still does things that we know are sensory driven, but not are no longer debilitating, like stuffing his mouth super full so that his mouth actually registers that he's eating.  We had to learn how to let go and pick our battles.  I realized last night as Noah put an entire peanut butter sandwich in his mouth at one time and we just dismissed it that we were on the other side. And this morning when his normal shoes were wet and his other shoes "felt funny" he only melted down for a few minutes and then rolled with it instead of that snowballing into a terrible day for him.  Now, Noah is one of the most easy going, JOYFUL children I know- but it was a LONG process.

He's now so in tune with his body that when he feels out of control he will say, "I feel like I need to get in my heavy blanket" or "I'm going to crawl in the cabinet (we have an empty kitchen cabinet in our house just for this!) because I can't handle anyone else touching me."  He can go sit in there with the iPad for a little bit until his body feels less sensitive (but at the same time, the confinement of the cabinet causes him to scrunch up and stimulate his nervous system).  He knows what he needs.  He has no idea why he needs it but he knows that it works for him.  As he grows and changes, his needs grow and change.  Over the years, we've tried lots and lots of different sensory activities.  The goal has always been to make them fun- after all, kids NEED to play!  For very young kids- therapy should NOT feel like therapy, it should feel like a game.  Here are a few of our favorite, tried and true activities:

10 FUN Sensory Activities For Kids

Polluted Playdough- Dump a cup full of rice into a container of playdough.  Or non-perils, or small rocks, or oatmeal or dried beans any other number of small objects.  It's great sensory play just to squish the play-dough with different textures.  Another game is to pick out the grains of rice (or other objects) from the playdough.  This helps with fine motor skills as well.
The 5 minute recipe I use for no-cook playdough is:
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • Tempera paint or food coloring (keep adding a  drop at a time until it is the color you want)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Mix together in a large bowl until it is the consistency of bread dough.  Store in an airtight container. 
    Kid Taco- this is the same "science" that's behind a weighted blanket. Being tightly wrapped stimulates nerve receptors and calms them down (much like how a tight hug is relaxing). Remember those days of swaddling an infant? This is very similar. Lay out a blanket and wrap the child up tightly like a burrito. Then roll them around on the floor. Or start pulling the blanket at one end and let it "unroll" the child. This is one of our kids' (both the sensory seeking and the sensory typical ones) favorite things to do. Sometimes we will put a safety pin on the blanket so that it stays put and have timed "races" where the kids roll inside their blanket from one wall to another. We've found that this is one of the best ways to get major sensory input quickly.
    "Grocery Shopping"  (Heavy Work)  Those empty cartons that come with the play grocery carts are no match for our sensory seeking children.  When our son needed sensory input to the point that he was slamming into walls to get it, we found that giving him "heavy work" to do accomplished that.  He would ride his tricycle with a brick in the back.  Or put all of our canned goods in the toy grocery cart and push the cart around.  Or attempt to pull one of the other in the wagon! He thought it was so fun!  Just adding weight to the activities your child is already doing is a great way to stimulate the senses through exertion. The motion of pushing and pulling a heavy object stimulates the body from the core all the way out.  (And kids think it's a blast!  Just don't get too heavy- a little weight goes a long way!)

    Marching/Jumping Simon Says:  Getting kids with sensory issues to put on socks and shoes is one of the biggest complaints most of my OT friends say they get from parents.  This was one of our major issues as well.  Take some time BEFORE it's time to put socks and shoes on to "wake up" the feet.  Play a game of Simon Says that involves lots of jumping and marching- anything to get some pressure and stimulation going to the feet.   Play spa and rub lotion on the feet and give a gentle foot massage before putting on the shoes.  The idea is to desensitize the feet BEFORE squeezing them into socks and shoes. 

    Sensory Bin- get a shoebox or plastic container with a lid and fill the box with rice.  Bury small toys of different textures (a smooth ball, a hard block, a soft piece of fabric, or any small toys you want to put in.  Kids will have a blast just using their hands (or feet!) to find the objects buried in the rice.  Instead of rice, you could also use sand or dried beans or uncooked pasta.  To keep it fresh, swap out your buried objects as needed.
    Slurping and Crunching-  Food is a common sensory trigger for many kids.  Our son is super sensitive to food textures/sauces/noodles/hot liquids/etc.  Basically, if it's not crunchy or doesn't have to be chewed to death, he's not happy about it.  We started slowly with this one.  The idea is to "wake up" the mouth through stimulation before eating.  Like having a chewy tube to chew on and suck before meals.  Or giving treats eaten in nontraditional ways- like sucking pudding through a straw.  Using a straw when you typically "aren't supposed to" is really fun for kids and the extra exertion that is needed to get the food to the mouth helps to desensitize the mouth to adverse textures.  We also had a therapist that had our son blow bubbles in water with a straw before eating or put a couple of Poprocks in his mouth or brush his tongue with a toothbrush (no toothpaste) before eating. All of those served as extra sensory input for the mouth and tongue.

    Mummy- I gave birth to my son in the pre-Spanx days.  The first time I wanted to go out in real clothes and couldn't button my pants, I bought a giant, wide ACE style bandage to wrap up in to hold in my belly.  One day, my son was particularly tired of doing the "kid taco" but needed a little stimulation.  I used that big bandage to wrap him up snugly. (Scarves work great here, too!) I told him that he was a mummy and he stomped around the house moaning with his arms stuck out like a mummy.  It gave him just the input that he needed and was a "cool" way to do it.  We have to be creative with our kids- they burn out of therapy techniques and sometimes being a little unconventional is just the answer!
    Shaving Cream Painting-  Just like the polluted playdough, this one is really good for hand sensitivity.  Kids that have an aversion to feeling textures will hate this at first, but usually the thrill of making a mess is just the catalyst they need to dive right in.  Simply squirt some cheap shaving cream on the table (or a cookie sheet if you want to contain the mess) and let them have at it.  You can even drop in a few drops of food coloring to make colored foam as well. 

    Building hideouts- One of our kids' favorite things to do is to build "caves" out of pillows.  Building small closed in caves can really help our kids.  Being scrunched gives them core sensory input as well and brushing up against blankets and pillows gets them used to changes in soft and hard pressure.  For extra input, build a hideout in a corner where you can use the wall as hard input and a blanket or pillow for soft input so that you can maximize the sensory stimulation.
    Swinging- Swinging is hands down one of the best sensory activities there is.  The motion of swinging challenges kids vestibular awareness and makes them more conscious of where they are in space. Swinging on your stomach or bottom?  They are both great!  Do them both!  And if you get in a bind and can't go out and play, lay the child in a blanket and have two grown ups each pick up an end and gently rock (like a hammock). 
    All kids are different- what works for some doesn't work with others.  So much of therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder is trial and error. As a mom who walked through it with her child, there were times when we were rocking and rolling through it and times when we couldn't manange the disorder at all.  It was very cyclical.  Don't get discouraged if what you try one day that works, doesn't work the next day!  That's the nature of this disorder- it is always changing!  Be patient with yourself and your child and don't be afraid to think outside the box! 

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