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Folks of Letterfolk

Debt Free

Debt. Most of us have it. All of us hate it. From school loans to credit cards to mortgages, most have us have been acquainted with that dreaded four-letter word. Getting out of debt is a long, arduous journey, but thanks to stories like Kimberlee's, we know it's possible. When she posted her "Paid in Full" letter board photo, we knew we had to learn more about her journey and share her inspiring feat. 

📷: @cuppakim

We were so excited to celebrate your debt freedom vicariously! Tell us a little bit about your journey.
I had always considered myself "good with money" (I'm a numbers person, a math nerd, a spreadsheet junkie), but in the fall of 2016 I tallied up my monthly debt payments (mostly normal things — car, home improvements, student loans, and a small credit card balance that never seemed to go away) and realized how much money I had obligated to things of the past, and nothing to hold for the future. I was shocked, and extremely motivated to take care of business. I started the Dave Ramsey Baby Steps immediately, including the "debt snowball" which is the processing of paying minimums on all debts and then throwing every dollar at the smallest balance. Once that is paid off, you do the same and "snowball" those funds to the next smallest. I set a goal for myself and got to work. It took a couple of months to really get a good groove going and to figure out a budget that worked for my life. But once I did, things started really coming together and the snowball was rolling. It took me 20 months to pay down $52,000 of debt.
So how does it feel to be debt free? 

It feels so great. I've been debt free for a little over a month, and every so often I am reflecting about how much less complicated things are without all kinds of bills and payments going out every which way. It is exciting that I can now focus on the future, and most importantly, I have more opportunities to give generously. As a believer, I find it super important to be generous and a good steward of what I have been given. Becoming debt free was a big conviction I had, and I know that the Lord is the one who is the giver of all things, and I want to be wise and do the best I can with what He has given me.

I saw that you mentioned Baby Step 3 in your post, what does that mean?

Baby Step 3 is saving for a 3-6 month emergency fund. I am getting started on that ASAP. I will definitely be doing a six-month fund, with a little extra cushion. Since I'm single and a homeowner, the responsibility is solely mine if anything happens to me. So having a good safety net is super important for financial peace.

Who helped you the most with support and whatever you needed during your journey out of debt?

Literally everyone around me. My family, friends, and coworkers were all cheering on the process. I won a cash prize at my company Christmas party, which went almost entirely to my debt snowball, and seeing how excited and happy everyone was for me was incredibly encouraging. My coworkers were always championing me on payday. My family was so supportive and I'd get a few meals from them when the budget was extra lean. And my friends were always asking about the debt snowball.

Did you do anything fun to celebrate?

The day I became debt free my sister, dad and I went to a nice lunch — my treat (and in the budget!). I went to France two weeks later, all saved for with cash. It had been my goal to become debt free before doing this vacation so that it would feel like a real celebration. I also bought myself a nice handbag that I had been saving for. I feel like I celebrated to the max! And now it's time to get to business on Baby Step 3.

Any tips for those of that need some encouragement to get out of debt?

If someone is looking to get out of debt, the first step is to find out exactly how much debt you have. A lot of people, like me, don't realize how much debt they actually have until they total it up. And then the most important thing is to create a budget. Add up your monthly necessary expenses and you'll know how much else you can put toward debt. I used to hate the word budget, but I have learned that a budget "gives you permission to spend" without guilt. I actually have my budget loosely typed out through the end of next year. I have a plan for saving up for Baby Step 3 and beginning Baby Step 4 (which is saving for retirement). I know what is coming up and how much money I should have to spend on the necessities, as well as the fun stuff and my next travels.

And of course: what’s currently on your letter board?

My current letter board is inspired by my France trip. I like to do a letter board for each trip and then I use that photo for the back cover of my Shutterfly Album and iPhoto Album. It says "DE TOUS LE LIVRES CE QUE JE PREFERE C'EST MON PASSPORT," which translates to, "Of all the books out there, my passport is my favorite." I read a few other great books while I was gone, and I think I found a quote or two for my next board!

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

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Otto's Fight

📷: @adventuresinabbyland

Following the stories of our customers is one of the most rewarding parts of our job. Some of the most heartbreaking stories we find often end up being some of the most inspiring. Today we meet Otto, who was diagnosed with a heart disease soon after he was born. We got the chance to have Otto's mom, Abby, take us through some of the hardest and most inspiring moments of Otto's journey. 

To start off, tell us about Otto and his fight with CHD.

Where oh where do you begin with someone like Otto. Otto was born on July 27, 2017 with a known heart defect called AVSD or AV Canal which, long story short, is a hole in the heart. This was discovered at our 20-week ultrasound, but once he was born, there were more issues discovered. We had suspected the additional defects (mitral valve regurgitation and a hypoplastic aortic arch) (basically means his valve that pumps blood to the lungs leaks blood back in the wrong way and he has a narrowing of his aortic arch). The plan was to correct these issues between 3-6 months, but unfortunately we didn't make it that far and Otto had his first heart surgery at 2 months old (October 4, 2017). The surgery at first was considered a complete success but the next 24 hours proved otherwise. He was hypertensive over night and the stitches just couldn't hold. Our surgeon described it as trying to sew into wet tissue paper. Otto did not progress at all for two days and a second emergency surgery was scheduled. However, after almost 3 days of not being able to hold him, one of our nurses let me sit with him in my arms. For 4 hours I didn't move, and Otto's blood pressure began to calm down — so much so that the doctors walked in and thought there was something wrong with the monitor. Anybody who doesn't believe in the power of prayer and human touch can bear witness to Otto. I knew at that moment his father (Joe), Otto, and myself were sealed. We were a team. Before laying him back in his hospital bed that night, I held his little hand and told him, "Otto, you need to work hard. You need to get better. You need to help us get you out of here so you can be our little boy and we can be your parents." 

Our surgeon postponed the emergency surgery because Otto continued to improve. Then it was postponed again, and again, and again until we were eventually moved out of the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) and onto a recovery floor and eventually home.

Our goal was to get until 18 lbs or April. Here we are over 18 lbs and April, and the second surgery is getting pushed back further and further. The doctors still say one, two, maybe even three more open heart surgeries are in Otto's future, but there is one thing we know for sure: Otto is the definition of a fighter and will get through this.

Following Otto's story and your documentation of it has really inspired us. How has documenting the experience helped you and your family? 

Having a kiddo like Otto forces you to slow down and take things one day at a time. However, time is still a thief and there are weeks that go by in a total blur. There are mornings I pick up Otto and I swear he has grown overnight. Being able to document his monthly progress allows us to look back and remember where we started and how far we have come. From his birth in the NICU, home for a few months, heart surgery, coming home and growing and playing and learning like any other baby has been an absolute answer to prayer. We are grateful for the reminder from each month that Otto is strong and God is good.  

We absolutely love all the photos you post of Otto, but if you had a favorite photo, which would it be?

Oh no a favorite!?!? I would have to say my absolute favorite photo is the first one of him and me Earth side. We didn't find out what the gender was until he was born. I remember just holding my breath and looking in to Joe's eyes, and we waited for what seemed like eternity for that first cry, and then it came. The doctor called out "Does red hair run in your family?!" (No it doesn't, haha) But then she called out, "It's a boy!" I remember frantically looking over to my side trying to see around the curtain, and they held him up. I just remember my heart exploding and thinking I have a son. The man I love most in this world and I have a human here together and it's a boy and he is my son. They placed Otto by my shoulder and I reached my arm over and just... was speechless. Joe snapped a picture of that first moment and every time I look at that photo, I just remember everything about that moment and it was truly perfect. 

We know this battle is long and hard for your family and want to know how you continue to keep fighting each day. 

It's hard. I'm not going to sugar coat it. The reality of that first surgery is starting to hit us and it's terrifying to think that we have to go through this again and maybe even again. There are three things that keep us going. 1.) Otto is so happy. He truly is the happiest baby I have ever come in contact with. I made a promise to God when Otto was in the hospital that another heart mom shared with me. I prayed God, if you can heal Otto I PROMISE that Joe and I will give him the most beautiful life we can. Some days I am better at it than others, but we work hard to give Otto a beautiful life and that is motivation to keep on fighting. 2.) That day is not today. There are days when I find myself googling all the horrible things about valve replacements, surgeries, etc. But I have to close the computer and walk away.  I tell myself that day is NOT today. It's not even on a schedule yet. Do not ruin this beautiful day and steal the joy from it by worrying about something that isn't yet to be. 3.) A great devotion I completed by Ann Voskamp shared that "Worry is the facade of taking action when prayer is." I've held tight to that day after day when I find myself slipping up and thinking too much about what could potentially happen. Worry does nothing.

Which milestones do you look most forward to with Otto? 

Oh gardening with his mama for sure. We live on 12 acres in the country, and I cannot wait for him to help daddy with chores (we have sheep and chickens) and come play in the dirt with me. Gardening is my escape, and this summer I have a little plot out there for "Otto's Garden."

In what ways have those around Otto rallied around him in love and support? 

Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have really made Otto everyone's baby. It is incredible the encouragement, love, and support we have received not only from in-person friends and family, but also from people all around the world that we have never met. There are people who have prayer groups, raised money for CHD in his name and shared his story from here in Grand Rapids, MI, all the way to Australia. It is an amazing feeling when one of the nurses taking care of your child mentions they follow his story on Instagram and were hoping they would get him as a patient. We have been put in contact with so many amazing doctors, nurses, support groups and fellow "heart parents" that we would have no idea existed if not for social media. The biggest honor is when a parent mentions that their child asks how baby Otto is doing. We even had one parent share with us that their child joined Jump Rope for Heart in honor of Otto. All the people that take time out of their day to tell us they love Otto, they're praying for him, they love following him, words can not express how grateful we are to them. 

How can we support kids like Otto who are battling CHD?  

There are so many amazing charities and foundations out there, but we are so grateful to the Helen DeVos Childrens Hospital of Grand Rapids, MI. Starting with the techs that caught the defect at 20 weeks to those who delivered him, Dr. Haw who performs all of these pediatric open heart surgeries, the nurses who cared for him during our stay, the doctors that call us out by name when they see us out and about. That hospital is incredible. We are so lucky to have them so close to us.

We are also grateful to the Renucci House, which is similar to the Ronald Mcdonald House. We live 1-hour from the hospital and instead of going home each night, we had a clean bed to sleep in connected to the hospital so we were never far from Otto.

Before Otto, CHD was not on my radar. I had another friend who had a son born with CHD but that was it. 1 in 100 babies are affected with CHD. Encourage women to ask questions during their ultrasound, ask for a doppler ultrasound of the heart. I had no idea this was even an option but I didn't have to. My tech caught it and she's amazing. Before babies leave the hospital, make sure they get a pulse OX test. This is a simple, non-invasive way of checking for a potential CHD. Most hospitals do this, but it never hurts to ask.

Lastly, we always like to ask: what is currently up on your letter board?

His last milestone photo phrase. I look forward to his monthly birthday and getting to switch the number before the month. It makes his progress seem extra official. 

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

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RV Living

📷: @arrowsandbow

RV living usually makes us think of grandparents driving their RV south during the winter in search of warmer weather. When we saw Ashley's Instagram feed full of well-designed rooms, it bucked the stereotypical idea we've had of RV life. We got the chance to ask her how she uses space so well and what it's like living in her RV home. 

To start off, tell us about how you decided to take your family on the road and live in an RV.

We purchased land in SoCal to build a house, and we had a lot of options of what we could do with that time while we build. So we decided to buy and renovate an  RV to live in. Because why not?! We just wanted to experience life differently. 

What was the construction/design process like? 

It took us 3 weeks to renovate the RV. It’s was perfectly old inside -- no major damage, so it was mostly cosmetic.

What are the pros and cons of RV living? 

Pros of living in the RV are definitely what it’s done to our family. We’ve been all jammed together (literally) so you’re kinda forced to make things work. It’s been a stretch, but in a good way. Our kids have learned to live with so much less. Cons? We don’t have a washer and dryer. I have 3 kids and we live on land, so things get diiirty! 

Where is your favorite place you have parked your home? 

We haven’t moved it, yet! We are hoping to take it to the beach in Malibu this summer. 

Are we the only ones among your followers who are confused by the way you make the inside of your RV look like well-designed rooms in a normal house?

Haha, most people don’t know it’s an RV at first glance. Which is so funny. Probably because I’m living in it and you guys aren’t. But that was truly my goal. If we were gonna be here for a while, it had to feel like home.  

 How are you able to do so much with such little space? 

I really just focus on things I love and that feel like my style and our family. And things need to serve a purpose -- I like pretty but functional.  

What are some of your best space-saving hacks for people living in smaller living spaces? 

I always tell people to start with less. For some reason, we have a hard time getting rid of things, like we feel bad and that we’re being wasteful. But in reality, we are kinda just slaves to our stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I love certain things, but it’s been very freeing living with less. 

Tell us what's changed raising your kids while living in an RV? We want to hear the good and the bad!

Well we are all living in 180 sq ft. So when someone is in a bad mood, we are all a part of it. We’ve been put through the test of patience and grace and forgiveness, which is a never-ending thing. The kids have learned to play with less, use their imaginations, and they actually play better together. I’d say showering has been interesting. While we do have a shower and we’re connected to water, it’s a bit of a routine. Luckily, we don’t have any neighbors because one of the kids is usually running around naked! 


Do you have any scheduled upcoming trips taking your home on the road?

We really want to take the RV to the beach this summer. 

Lastly, we always like to ask: what is currently up on your letter board?

Currently we have “ A huge torrent cannot extinguish Love; rivers cannot sweep it away.“ 

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

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Pregnant and Adopting!

📷: @jamielynndorr

It's funny how you sometimes open this app on your phone, and out of nowhere can have your heart touched. In this week's Folks of Letterfolk, we get to know Jamie and her family's brave journey. We saw her post about getting pregnant while adopting and had to get the full story. 

To start off, tell us a little about how you ended up getting pregnant and adopting.

Absolutely! Jake and I, both, had always wanted a family. So as I think about the one thing that got us to where we are today, both pregnant and adopting, I realize that it has been rather a season of doors opening and closing rather than a unified decision we made over a Thursday night dinner. I was so naïve to the world we live in, one where infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss can happen. The silent, isolating, and private pains that, unfortunately, some of us deal with as women. We got pregnant with our firstborn and we were overjoyed! We heard her heartbeat, she was measuring on track, and then tragically and unexpectedly her heartbeat just stopped. We battled secondary infertility, and just when I thought that the medication and the shots were useless, God gifted us a son. We carried him 35 weeks and 2 days. His appointments were always short and sweet, as nothing was out of place and he was measuring right on track. But little did we know that two months after a long, and hard fought NICU journey, that we would place him into the arms of Jesus due to an “unexplainable” neurological condition. He never even opened his eyes.

This left us heartbroken, questioning, and ultimately unsure of where to go from there. No one was telling us we couldn’t have a baby, but then again no one was telling us we could either. I remember walking the halls of our NICU seeing these children battling for their lives often alone in an empty room. This whole experience changed me.

When we got home, this desire for a family, and this pain that I saw in the rooms surrounding my son, well I just had to do something about it. So I prayed, and little by little God began to write this story of adoption on our hearts. We thought, why not us? Why not give a child the family that it needs? And sometimes that’s the only thing you need – a willing heart. And so we took steps towards adoption. Pregnancy after this type of trauma, not to mention the battle with secondary infertility, was so far from my mind; I didn’t even think it was possible. But shortly days after we started the adoption process, I wound up with a positive pregnancy test and a whole lot of tears. When we went to calculate the due date of our biological baby, the “probable date of conception” was the exact same day we had decided to adopt. Okay, God!  

How did you decide to announce the news of two new babies to your close friends and family?

Well first off, how do you not scream that type of news from the rooftops!!! That we would get to be parents for the third and fourth time in two years! Right? Unheard of. Well, our close friends and family have walked these past two years with us, in the trenches, encouraging us to press on when we thought we had nothing left in us. Not to mention, they live in all these different states, so we did our best to call and FaceTime, but ultimately, like I said, this type of news had to be shouted from the rooftops! So we used our beloved Letterfolk board to tell everyone we could the good news.

With the two babies on the way, how close are their due dates?

Well that’s the beauty of adoption; it could be twelve days or twelve months from now. It just depends on when a birth mom chooses us. At that point we will have a clearer picture on when to expect bringing that little one home. As for the babe in my belly, we hope to expect that one as close to August 29th as we can get. 

How do you manage the usual preparations of not only pregnancy, but also adoption all at the same time? 

You have to set realistic goals, manage your days, and know your body. Adoption is a lot of paperwork and some of it is filling out mindless information: your name, age, occupation, etc. For someone like me, who wants to finish something and move on, well, you can’t necessarily do that with adoption. You have to depend on others to help you: your social worker, the people running your background checks, and your agency. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself sitting for long periods of time and running around town trying to get pieces of paperwork filled out. This can make you very tired and stressed, which is not good for a baby in utero. Not to mention the first trimester can often make you feel like you are in survival mode. So there are days that I have to listen to my body. If I’m not feeling well and having trouble keeping food down, I have to put down the pen and leave the paperwork alone. Different babies, different needs. Some days I feel like I moved mountains in the paperwork process, and I feel like I am one step closer to holding our child through adoption. And other days, I receive God’s grace in that my job for the day was that I grew a human, and I’m one step closer to holding that child in my arms, too. So the preparations are different, but hopefully the end goals are the same – bringing those baby Dorrs home! 

We've been touched by your unimaginable experience of losing two children and wanted to ask how that has impacted this experience of adopting and having another baby?

Ultimately, losing two children impacts everything about what you do and how you do it. You have to learn a “new normal.” And oftentimes, your days feel like this cheap version of what should have been. But when it comes to growing our family again, through both adoption and pregnancy, we know that our babies would want this for us. They wouldn’t want us to stop living. I think that if they were here, they would be overjoyed to have more siblings. And so as a couple, we have pressed on, asked God for grace, and with hands wide open we willingly accept whatever He gives us. And surprisingly enough, I have learned that grief and joy and praise can all coexist together inside of me. That these new babies will never replace the two we lost. We will never not miss them, or think what life would have been with them in it. But whatever happens to us, good or bad, it is well with our souls and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.   

What are you looking forward to most once both babies are born?

There are so many things I am excited about once both babies are born. I mean you name it, everything from the tiny clothes to the baby sounds. Give me all of it! However, the thing I am looking forward to most in the world is to see their eyes open and gaze up at me. My son Barron, in his two months of life, never opened his eyes or breathed on his own. I dreamed about the day that I would get to look into those beautiful eyes and say to him, “Hey Buddy, it’s me. I’m your mama.” But unfortunately that won’t ever happen this side of Heaven, so as insignificant as it may seem, it’s the moment I’m looking forward to the most. To look at my babies in the eye and tell them how much they are loved and cherished and how I will be there for them, as their mama, for the rest of their days.

Lastly, we always like to ask: what is currently up on your letter board?

Well, as of this past week we are officially in the second trimester and we are officially finished with every piece of paperwork for our adoption! Can I get a hallelujah? So you know how they say that the second trimester is the “honeymoon phase” of pregnancy? As our board states, “Give me all the second trimester paper pregnant feels.” We are one step closer and we are soaking it all in. 

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

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Bundle(s) of Joy

📷: @katelynrutbrown 

Maybe it's because we are getting ready to add another member to team Letterfolk, but lately we have been baby crazy! As soon as we saw Katelyn's adorable twins, we were immediately attached. Pretty soon, we will also have three kids and we wanted to ask Katelyn how she does it. She shared some great stories and tips about raising twins. 

To start off, tell us about your cute twins.

My baby girls are four months old, born on October 3rd 2017. I was 37 weeks pregnant and ready to pop and begging my doctor to please take them out. Twin pregnancies are no joke. Baby A is Rosemary "Rosie" Lynn Brown. She's named after my husband's granny Rosemary and my mother, Lynn. Baby B is Lula Mae Brown. She's named after my great-grandma on my dad's side. They are fraternal twins and very different not only in size, but also their personalities already. Rosie is five pounds heavier than Lula. Rosie is a cuddle bug and Lula is just busy. I love that they are so different.

What was your initial reaction when you found out that you were not only pregnant, but that you were also having twins? 

 We had been trying to have another baby for what felt like an eternity. We had a few mishaps along the way, two really early miscarriages and one really devastating miscarriage at 16 weeks. I tell people I prayed so much for another baby, well begged and begged, that God finally was like, "Here take two and leave me alone." We went to our appointment and all I wanted to hear was that heartbeat, and we heard two -- two strong heartbeats. My husband and I just started laughing -- the panic came later from him. I was so excited; it was the best news. It still isn't real life. I can't believe we have two babies.  

And what did big brother Rutledge think of getting two younger sisters? 

Rutledge was stoked. He was so excited to be a big brother. We named them early on so we could talk about them as much as possible around him. He was an only child and the only grandchild, so his world was about to be rocked. We told him he was really special because not everyone gets two babies at once, so he was the lucky big brother. He has handled his role with grace; he loves them so much. I could not be more proud of my little guy, and his love for them is the sweetest. 

How has life changed going from one child to three overnight? 

I still can't believe we have three kids. The girls are awesome sleepers and generally happy babies, so the transition has not been that hard. I mean, there are two of them, so some days are super challenging and exhausting, but we have loved it. We made it past the first three months, so I feel like it's smooth sailing from here on out. Those first three months are hard no matter how many babies you have. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and I felt like I was made to be a mother. I enjoy it so much. I also have a job, which gives me balance. I think the biggest change has been how little time I have to focus on anything at all except for my kids right now, which is fine with me because I know these days are fleeting.  

We'd love to hear some of your best multitasking hacks for taking care of two babies at once.

I have always been a believer that you bring a baby into your world and they adjust to you -- not the other way around. I was scared my whole life would be a dead-set schedule of baby feedings, changing and naps. You have to have some sort of structure with two babies because if you didn't, you'll lose your mind. We feed them, change them, and have them nap at the same time. They are on the exact same schedule. It's the only way to survive. If one gets fed, the other one has to eat as well. I let them nap on the go, but bedtime is a must at the same time every day, I mean, they are sleeping through the night, and I am not trying to mess that up. 

Strangers seem to find babies irresistible, and we'd imagine having twins must take that to a whole other level. Do you and your kids get stopped all the time when you go out? 

Yes, we are the freaks at the circus. I mean, it's 2018. You'd think people would have seen a million twins. People act like we are unicorns. When I am pushing the girls around in the stroller and my son is on his stand that is attached to the stroller, everyone has a comment. I am always amazed by what people say to me, sometimes not in a good way, but I just brush it off.  

Is there any part of parenting that gets more fun when you have two babies instead of one? 

Umm, yes! What is better than two babies? I am in baby heaven. I am a photographer, and twins are a dream come true, too. We haven't gotten to the point in their lives yet where they play and interact with each other, but I have heard the  bond and friendship they will have is amazing to watch. I am so excited to see them grow up together. 

Lastly, we always like to ask: what is currently up on your letter board?

Currently on my letter board it says "Well aren't you a sight for sore eyes?" with two big O's with periods in the middle to look like eyes. My husband put it up as I was away for a week across country for a business trip.  

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

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