Changing Lives Through Fostering

📷: @brittaneykate


Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! For those who don't know you, tell us about yourself. 
My name is Brittaney. I'm a midwest girl turned loyal New Englander. I buy canned goods I already have and there's a pretty sweet collection of green chilies in my pantry to prove it. I've never met a donut I didn't like. Paris in the fall is my favorite place on Earth but Nantucket is a close second. Former foster kiddo, current foster mama. I run an interior design business and write about foster care on the Internet.
 
You mentioned that this month is Foster Care Awareness Month. For those who are interested in fostering, what advice would you give them?

I always like to remind people to enjoy the process. Some of the best times in our marriage were the days we deep-cleaned the house together to get ready for our home study, packing snacks for our long drive into the city to attend classes, late nights filling out paperwork laughing so hard we couldn't breathe. Our placement came quick enough, but we will never get the process back. It's a lot like pregnancy. So much fun preparation -- soak it in!

We are so inspired by your willingness to become a foster parent after your experience in the system as well. Did you always foresee a future as a foster parent for yourself?

The short answer, yes! The long answer?

I went through so much trauma as a kid, and because of it, I was angry all the time. I remember feeling so abandoned. I just wanted someone else to hurt the way I was hurting -- even if it was someone I loved the most. 

“I hate you! You aren’t even my real mom! You’re STUPID! I didn’t even want to be adopted into this dumb family!” These are all things that I said -- ahem -- screamed at my foster (now adoptive) mom. My mom never missed a beat. She never flinched or wavered. She would close my bedroom door, sit on my bed, and calmly ask me to sit with her.

“I’ll make you a deal. I am going to put my arms around you now. If you can get out of my grasp, I will let you run away. Anywhere you want to go. Ok?” So I sat on her lap and kicked and screamed and wailed. Every time I thought, “This is the time I’ll finally get out.” But it always ended the exact same way. I calmed, leaned into her, and wept. She had this way about her. I can’t explain it. It was like she was made for me. Now that I’m a mom who has mothered kids from hard places, I have a secret spot I like to go to cry so the kids don’t see me. I often wonder where my mom’s secret spot was.

Adoption, although a truly happy ending, doesn’t erase the broken beginning. I cry every single time I think about the relationship I had with my adoptive mom. I think I was afraid of how much I loved her. How could I love a woman who wasn’t my biological mom? How could I love her this much? Now that I’m older and see how much she endured for me, WITH me, I love her even more. Sometimes, when I feel life start to spin out of control around me, I can still feel her strong arms around me reminding me that it’s OK not to feel OK all the time.

My mother's love changed me. I promised myself that one day I would gift that love to someone else. 

You just announced that you're adopting your foster son! Congratulations! What does the foster-to-adopt process look like?

Each state is different, but our state doesn't have a "foster to adopt" program. Basically, you are either a foster parent or a pre-adoptive parent. The pre-adoptive homes only get calls for children who have already been or are very close to being legally freed for adoption. Since we are strictly foster parents, going into it we knew our kiddos would be reunifying. Sometimes, if reunification isn't a safe choice, they might present us with the option to adopt, which is what happened in our foster son's case. He came to us fresh from the NICU and has been with us for just shy of two years. So when they asked if we would be interested in adopting, we couldn't say yes fast enough! We cannot wait to legally become something we have always been -- a family.

If you don't mind us asking, what has been the hardest thing about fostering?

Letting go of control. I am a recovering control freak. When I was a kid, I walked through so many traumatic situations that were out of my control. The older I got, the more I realized that having control made me feel safe. So I tried to control everything. It was one of the only coping mechanisms I had. Well, foster care and control don't really go in the same sentence. I had to learn that the hard way. There is a deep sadness that comes with watching someone we love transition out of our perfect suburban neighborhood into a shelter. That was by far one of the hardest things we have ever walked through as a family -- talk about a lesson in letting go of control! On a positive note, we have built an amazing relationship with that family and are hoping to have them moved into an apartment very soon. I will be the first person there with the boxes and packing tape. Recovering control freak, remember?

We always like to ask: what is currently on your letter board?
My letter board actually now says “Future Allen” because we just found out we get to adopt our foster son!!
 
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Adopting AND Expecting!

📷: @katieshira


How can you not smile (or happy cry) looking at this photo! Tell us a little about Jett’s story.

Jett came to us through foster care in December of 2015 (when he was 2 months old). And after 821 days in foster care he was adopted into our family officially. This picture is on his adoption day surrounded by friends and family who loved him dearly! 


It looks like you also announced that you were pregnant a few days after Jett’s adoption! What kind of emotions were you feeling that day?

I was 5 months pregnant when we finally announced the new baby. It was really important to us to wait and let Jett have his adoption day. We waited so long for his adoption and we didn’t want anything to overshadow it. But once we announced our pregnancy 3 days after adoption we were relieved to have it out in the open because I was starting to show! 

I remember feeling strong kicks in my belly while Jett was sitting in my lap as the judge officially announced his new name. That was one of the neatest and most emotional moments of my life. 


For someone interested in adopting, what words of advice would you offer to help them in their journey?

The foster to adopt road is long and hard. 821 days in the foster system is a long time. Our biggest encouragement would be.... endurance. There’s children in need. Commit to the process if you feel called to it. It is worth it in the end, but not without bumps in the road. 


And what advice would you have for friends and loved ones of adopting parents who want to support and help?

Treat it like you would a baby being born into a family! As far as helping with items they need, cooking meals, check on the parents, ask about the kids by name, offer to pick up groceries. It is a major change in their routine and lifestyle. Step up and love on them. 


How’s life with two little dudes?

Life with two boys is the best. Exhausting, rowdy, busy, rambunctious, cuddly and sweet. I love being a boy mom. I love watching them be brothers. Jett is Tripp’s favorite person. We cannot imagine not having Jett be Tripp’s big brother. Their relationship is sweet to watch. 

What is currently on your letter board?

Go bravely; go deeply - or do not go. 


If you or someone you know has a story you would like to have featured, send us an email at hey@letterfolk.com
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Journey to be Debt-Free

 

📷: @ohyeskathy


We are SO impressed at your journey to get out of debt! How does it feel to have one down?

It feels surreal! We’ve been on our debt-repayment journey since July 2016, and we’re finally at a point where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. With each small debt we pay off, snowballing into the next debt gives us a tangible sense of momentum. It’s exciting! 

Was there a particular moment when you decided to start the process of becoming debt-free?

Our story of pursuing financial freedom actually started in 2015 when our marriage almost fell apart. After 9 months of intensive counseling we realized that finances were among the top issues causing stress on our marriage. The 60-minutes of carved out time each week in our counselor's office gave us the space to communicate, hear one another, and most importantly, have a vision for our future. That was when we decided to step into the know of our financial picture. That’s the thing with finances. It’s so much more than dollars and cents. We realized that changing our legacy and that of our children was worth the short-term pain of discipline. It lit a fire in us that has kept us going through the past few years. 


What is the hardest aspect of sticking to a budget?

Initially, doing the prep work and understanding where our money was going month to month was a tough pill to swallow. Our “fun” and impulsive buying decisions amounted to thousands of dollars spent. After we came to grips with that, learning to live on cash and not beating ourselves up for our previous decisions was probably the next hardest thing. We had to learn to get very comfortable with saying “no” and “later” and modifying our lifestyle in order to make progress. It's been a continuous lesson in discipline, patience, communication and teamwork. 


What has been the biggest hurdle in getting out of debt?

The unexpected setbacks. Cars breakdown, utility bills come in significantly higher than budgeted for, or we’ve forget to budget categories altogether that had previously been mindless spending. Each month, we get better at this budgeting thing, but our biggest hurdle by far was when we were told our oldest son would need immediate open-heart surgery for a heart condition that had suddenly worsened in 2018. It rocked our world and amounted to thousands of dollars in medical bills. We leaned into our faith during this particularly tough season and knew that God would sustain us in all ways despite the bills and emotions surrounding this event. Our Daniel made a full and miraculous recovery, and our finances have been blessed in the months after, too. It’s neat when you can see how decisions from years earlier ultimately made us better prepared for the unexpected challenges down the road.


What’s next for your family?

We’ve set an “out of debt” deadline of January 2021. We’re believing that it will happen months sooner at the pace we’re going. We continue to be diligent with our finances and find creative ways to throw extra money at debt. In 2019, my husband deploys, Daniel starts Kindergarten, and our littlest, Zane, starts nursery school! It will be a year of exciting new beginnings and adventures. Each high and low season has knit our family a little closer together. 


And finally, what does your letter board say right now?

“Moments of courage are the plot points of an exciting life.”

Last year's medical diagnosis for our son took a lot of courage as a mother to get through. Gearing up for life at home with my boys while my husband goes on his 6th deployment to a war zone takes a lot of courage. Owning a company and stepping up as a leader for my team while focusing on hitting big goals, takes a lot of courage. I  choose to approach life with enthusiasm and a belief that I am equipped for all the “excitement” in my life. My letter board is just one more way to visually remind myself what I’m made of.


If you or someone you know has a story you would like to have featured, send us an email at hey@letterfolk.com

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FUL Candles

📷: @fulcandles

Laura Holt of FUL Candles comes up with some of the best letter boards we see! Laura runs a small batch candle shop so we reached out to her to ask her about the business. 


We (clearly) love your photos, and we’ll have questions about that later, but tell us a little bit about your business, FUL Candles.

Well, thank you! Y’all have been huge supporters, and we appreciate it! I started FUL Candles a few years after a bad back injury. I was in a lot of pain and no longer able to sit at a desk and do my graphic design job. I was feeling pretty hopeless, but I thought maybe finding another creative outlet could help lift that dark cloud. One day I started playing with wax, hoping it would divert attention away from the pain. Anyone who has dealt with a difficult injury or chronic pain knows the power of distraction. Honestly, that’s what this entire business started as. But after several months, it was obvious the candles weren’t just a distraction. The entire creative process brought me so much joy. I gave away candles as gifts, and positive feedback began rolling in. Being able to spread a little joy gave me some purpose again. Eventually, I had the thought that maybe this could be a real business...and if not, at least our house would smell great while trying.  


Tell us about your candle-making process.

My candle-making process probably looks a little different from other small batch candle companies. Since I still deal with chronic pain, there are back and hip procedures, doctors appointments, and down time that have to be scheduled around. But there are plenty of Parks & Rec and The Office episodes on repeat to keep spirits up. Currently, everything is hand-crafted, labeled, and packaged in our home. We wholesale with several amazing local East Tennessee shops, as well as a few hand-picked boutiques across the US. I’ve intentionally kept everything very small (much to the dismay of potential wholesalers), but it’s what works for me. Word on the street is you have to put on your own oxygen mask first, so I’m trying.

 


How do you come up with new scents?

New scents are super fun to create. Lots of test batches. Lots of forcing—I mean, *encouraging* my husband to smell crazy concoctions. Sometimes a good idea on paper is terrible in real life. I’m not sure if other makers do this, but if I don’t personally like something, I’m not going to sell it. Smell is so subjective, and since I’m completely immersed in these scents day after day, I have to like them. So, just a heads up, don’t look for any heavily floral scented candles from us in the future. Not gonna happen. 


What’s your favorite FUL scent right now?

My favorite scent of the moment is WISHFUL (cake + sprinkles). It’s our latest release, and I seriously can’t get enough. It’s like a party in a jar...minus the small talk.


Toby is the cutest mascot! How long have you had him? (Is he your best employee?)

Thank you! We think he’s pretty adorable, though we may be a bit biased. We rescued him from the local shelter 8 years ago. He’s the best shop mascot/branch manager a girl could wish for. And besides being super cute, he’s paid in snackies—so he’s cheap labor too.

Anyone who has visited our feed in the last year or two knows that we love your letter board photos. How do you come up with your clever boards?

Inspiration for letter boards comes from everywhere: Twitter, Pinterest, TV shows, personal life experiences. I’m a firm believer in trying to find the humor in everything, especially tough situations. I try to take a thought like “My back hurts,” and dig a little deeper until it evolves into, “Well, my back hurts and it feels like I’m dying, but at least I’m keeping the makers of hydrocodone and orthopedic footwear in business.” The bad/sad/hard things can usually be mined for a little gold. And the best part is, when you are brave enough to share what’s challenging, or isolating, or weird about yourself, it ALWAYS turns out someone else can relate. Honesty and humor have the healing power to connect us all. (Maybe we should think about Ellen for president in 2020?? Just kidding. Sort of.)

 


Last but not least, what’s on your letter board right now?

“My favorite part of leaving my house is when I don’t.”


 If you or someone you know has a story you would like to have featured, send us an email at hey@letterfolk.com

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"I'm Adopting!"

 

📷: @joanna_gott

 


We love everything about how you capture life on your feed. For those who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I am a born and raised Seattle girl who moved to Waco, Texas, 3 years ago. I have been working in the fashion/retail industry for 22 years doing everything from apparel design, styling, and visual merchandising. Currently, I am an Assistant Visual Director and I love my job more than words can say. Most weekends, you will find me doing projects around my house, and I can't go a day without coffee or chocolate. I think there is nothing better than laughing out loud, and I truly believe everyone should turn on some music and dance in their living room at least once a week. . . maybe more. The most exciting news to share is that I am currently in the process of adopting from China and becoming a first-time mom! Family means the world to me, so I am excited to start my own little family right here in Texas. 

Few photos get us more excited than adoption announcements, so we were THRILLED to see yours. Tell us a little about your adoption journey so far. 

As a single woman who was approaching my 40's (I turned 40 this past August), I felt like I was straddling this strange line as to what my life was in actuality and what I thought it was "supposed" to look like. Adoption had been on my heart for a while, as I knew I wanted a family and my sister has adopted 3 beautiful girls from China. But adoption was a big step, and I wanted to be certain this was the plan for me. Then this past summer, there were a series of events that occurred one right after another that made it so clear I was being called to adopt. In that moment, I had to dive really deep into my heart and trust that even though my life wasn't how I had planned (married with biological children), God's plan in calling me to adopt would be so much greater than anything I could ever imagine. I am a bit of an overachiever and planner, so I had already been researching agencies and knew I wanted to adopt from China, as my family has such a close connection to that program. That made the start of the process a bit smoother to have all that initial research done, so once I decided to proceed with adoption, within a week I filled out the agency paperwork, had been approved to start the process, and started the Home Study paperwork. Once I start something, I go full force, and to be honest, I am so thankful for that drive and determination, as it has helped me power through all the paperwork and processes that are involved in adoption.   

It sounds like you’re still in the middle of this journey, but how long does it take to complete the adoption process? 

That is a tough question to answer, as there are a lot of factors involved in the adoption process, so the timeline looks different for everyone. The first part of the process (Home Study) is very paperwork-heavy, so that part can go as fast or as slow as you want -- depending on how quickly you want to get all that paperwork done. I kind of thrive on paperwork and organization, so I completed my Home Study in 3 months. Once that is complete, you then send off all your paperwork to be approved, and at that point you are eligible to match with a child. Currently, China adoptions have around a two-year wait. It can be longer or shorter depending on the age range, gender, and special needs your family is open to. If you are open to adopting an older child (3 years or older) or a boy, the wait time is shorter. Every program is a little bit different, and even the China program can change a lot from year to year, so it's best to contact a agency to get more detailed in-depth information about the timeline for this process. 

What is the range of emotions you’ve felt throughout this process? 

It has been a rollercoaster of emotions! Not only am I going through all the emotions of the adoption process, but I am also becoming a first-time parent and working through all the feelings and thoughts that come with that. Some days I feel so at peace, and then other days I will randomly think to myself, "When do parents have time to shower?!?" or "How do I know which stroller is the best one to buy?!?" It is a constant back and forth between the overwhelming excitement and joy of becoming a parent, and then total and complete fear of the unknown. I am a pretty independent (and sometimes stubborn) person, so in this process I am learning of the importance of asking for help and reaching out to others when I am feeling overwhelmed. My friends and family are incredibly supportive and have been there during many of my "freak out" moments.  

How many names are on your shortlist? 

I have just one name on that list, but I won't be sharing it until I am officially matched with my daughter. 

For someone considering adoption, what words of advice would you share? 

Don't let the process scare you away from considering adoption, as you are about to enter into the BEST community you could ask for. There are lots of unknowns when it comes to adoption: the paperwork, expenses, timelines, and did I mention the paperwork? But what has been the biggest blessing for me is the adoption community that has surrounded me in this process. I have never felt so welcomed, loved, and supported by a group of people who in reality are strangers whom I've never met. Yet, they come alongside you and are with you every step of the way to offer guidance, information, and words of encouragement. The adoption process is intense. Don't get me wrong, as there are so many of moments of beauty and joy; but this process is also filled with sadness, trauma, and loss. You are putting everything out there emotionally, mentally, and physically; but with this community, you are not doing it alone. So for anyone considering adoption or who has just started the process, reach out to others to ask questions and talk about the adoption process. Many agencies have groups you can join (both in person and through social media), and for me social media has been an amazing place to connect with others.  

And finally, what’s on your letter board right now? 

"Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it."


If you or someone you know has a story you would like to have featured, send us an email at hey@letterfolk.com

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