Welcome to my circus.

February 23, 2017
by Maralee

My Daughters, don’t just follow your dreams. Change the world.

My Girls,

I know I can be kind of a downer when it comes to inspirational speeches (or the lack thereof). I love you and I think you’re amazing, but I don’t actually think you can be whatever you want to be. I think you have special gifts and a unique calling and you can be whatever God wants you to be, but I’m not going to give you the “Follow your dreams” nonsense. Sometimes dreams have to die to make way for a better reality. I once dreamed I’d go to Broadway because I thought that’s what happened to the girl who played “Marian The Librarian” in her high school musical. Turns out, I can’t dance, I don’t really like performing and I don’t want to live in a big city. And come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I got the lead not because I was exceptionally talented, but because the director knew I was a hard worker and would show up to rehearsals with my lines memorized. Let that be a lesson to you– what you lack in talent, you can usually make up for in hard work.

So no, I am not and will never be on Broadway although that was once my dream. It was a dumb dream for me (although it could be precisely the way God chooses to use someone else to change the world) and I like being your mom way more than I would have liked that life. But just because I don’t think you can be whatever you want to be and I may not encourage you to follow your dreams doesn’t mean I don’t want big things for your life. I believe you can do the biggest thing out there.

I believe you can change the world.


Rebecca Tredway Photography

There are people out there who see problems in the world and they feel sad and they say, “We live in a broken world.” and go on about their day. I’ve never been able to be that kind of person. When I see those problems, I want to find a solution. When I find a solution, I want to communicate that to people who can help. I have come to learn that some problems are just one caring, powerful person away from being solved.

This means sometimes I’ve written a Letter to the Editor or two (or five). Sometimes I’ve called lawyers and advocacy groups. I’ve gone to public hearings about issues that matter to me. I’ve contacted the directors of agencies that needed to hear how agency philosophy was being translated into practical policies. I’ve testified at committee meetings for bills that were close to my heart. I’ve worked with state senators to help them get a “boots on the ground” perspective. I’ve bothered principals and school board members. And one time I took a foster toddler to meet with a state senator because sometimes senators need to be reminded about the very real consequences of their decisions.

Continue Reading →

February 21, 2017
by Maralee

Sex Trafficking is YOUR problem (and one thing you can do to help)

I’m going to be really honest with you about the evolution of my understanding of sex trafficking. I’m wondering if maybe it’s been your process, too.

Step 1: Sex trafficking is a really bad thing that happens in other countries where there are brothels and American businessmen pay for sex. Somebody should do something about that.

Step 2: Sex trafficking is a really bad thing that happens in my country where desperate women with drug problems trade their bodies for money and dangerous pimps make money off of it. We should do something about that.

Step 3: Sex trafficking is something that happens to vulnerable children and adults who have been failed by child welfare, by those the authorities, by their families and feel there is no other option than selling their bodies in order to survive or to feel “loved” by their pimps. I SHOULD DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT.

The statistics are staggering about how many kids are involved in sex trafficking. According to the FBI over 100,000 CHILDREN are sold for sex each year. If you’re like me, you’re asking yourself the question, “WHO ARE THESE KIDS?” How can 100,000 kids just disappear into sex trafficking operations? I’ve read “Free Range Kids” and I know kids aren’t being abducted by strangers at the rates they were even in my childhood, so what is going on?

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February 20, 2017
by Maralee

What do you wish you had known before you became a single foster parent?

I’m excited to be starting this series of guest posts about being a single foster parent. We’re starting at the beginning, or I guess, slightly before the beginning. I wanted to know what they wish they had known before they got into this whole gig. These answers are really helpful in giving you perspective about what to look into before becoming a foster parent.

(I have done some minor editing as needed, but I haven’t changed any of the content.)


What do you wish you had known before you started?

-Going through training they kind of drill it into your head that the children will go home, that the main goal is reunification. But you don’t really know what it’s like until it happens. Although it’s not really possible, I wish I had a better understanding of what that is like, but then again, would I choose to foster if I knew? Another thing I think is very important to know, and I bet is nationwide unfortunately, is the department staff is very overwhelmed. It is a slow, grueling process and we as foster parents have to come aside our workers and advocate for our children! I wish I would have had the courage from the beginning to advocate for my children the way I do now.- Tara, New Mexico, 2 years, 4 kids

-I wish I had known about the support groups available online where experienced foster parents could provide valuable info it took me years to gain on my own, and where I’ve found support. I also wish I had known regardless of what they say, my agency staff has the least amount of say about ANYthing regarding my kids– their main function is to certify my home, assist me in staying current with my licensure, and do the initial contact with me regarding placement. I have always known more about my kids and their cases than my agency. In fact, with one placement, CPS never contacted them about anything, never copied them on any documentation, and never returned a call to them; anything they knew, they learned from me.- Suzanne, Texas, 6 1/2 years, 11 children

-I wish I had known it would be completely overwhelming at first, but would get better with time. If I had known how emotionally and physically draining the first few weeks would be, I think I would have given myself more permission to let other things go (like work and cooking, for example) and just focus on bonding with the little boy who was dropped in my lap. I felt a lot of pressure (from both DSS and my employer) to get him in daycare immediately, but, in retrospect, I wish I would have taken a week or two off of work. When his sister arrived a few months later, I was more prepared to expect a time of transition and put my work on warning that I would be less available which helped.- Heather, North Carolina, 1 year, 2 kids

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February 17, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- October #2, 2016

Join the fun on Facebook and Twitter.

(watching “Superman 2” for the first time)
Bethany: This is the part where a lady always yells, “MY BABY!”
Lady in the Movie: MY BABY!
#nailedit #shewatchesalotofsuperheroshows

It’s Fall Break and I’m taking all six kids on an outing by myself. Prayers are appreciated.
#STAYATHOMEmom #howdoesshedoit #sheusuallyDOESNT

I’m starting to think maybe the root word of “dinner” is “din.”
#SOLOUD #somanykids #familymeals

Carrie (2): Mom, what this?
Me: My Little Pony.
Carrie: You little pony?
Me: No, it’s MY Little Pony.
Carrie: YOU little pony. I like you little pony. I have you little pony for my birthday? 
#whosonfirst #conversationswithtoddlers

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February 16, 2017
by Maralee

A Love Letter to Single Foster Parents

A couple years ago I did a series on the things that keep people from becoming foster parents. As part of that series, I addressed single foster parents. I had often heard people say they were interested in becoming a foster parent, but because they weren’t married they thought maybe they couldn’t do it, shouldn’t do it, or there wouldn’t be a need for them. I wanted to be sure they KNEW there was a place for them in foster care.

So I wrote a piece that spoke to what I knew, what I’d heard, what I believed, and what I’d read about single foster parenting. It was definitely from my perspective, which is as a married foster parent. I was on the outside looking in. I think there’s value in an “outsider” affirming the value of the single foster parent, but I also know I can’t really identify with the struggles and joys of what it’s actually like.

This point was brought home to me via a surprisingly hostile comment posted on that blog entry recently. I get my share of nasty comments, but by and large this piece has been immune to some of the controversy my other posts have stirred. And this piece has been read A LOT. It is one of my most frequently read pieces every month, so I know there’s a hunger for more of this information.

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February 10, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- October #1, 2016

I’d love to have you join in the fun on Facebook and Twitter.

In today’s installment of “Awkward Moments in Parenting”: When your kids ask you at the dinner table, “So Mom, what did you confess during the confession time at church today?”

I am live streaming the Nebraska Supreme Court today. Foster care makes you do weird things.

Is it bad if I can’t tell which one is Pence and which one is Kaine?
#allwhiteguyslookalike #faceblindness

It’s really fun to run into a dad friend from church and his beautiful kids at the library. . . until you remember you were thoroughly engrossed in reading a hot pink book with the title “Girls And Sex” on the cover. . .
#promiseitseducational #myfaceisalsohotpink

Me: Do you want kiwi or an orange for your fruit today?
Carrie (2): HAM!

Sometimes I vacuum to drown out the sound of my kids whining.
#momconfession #oneofthosedays

While out shopping with a couple of the kids last night, I told them we needed to look for the band-aids because we were out. The two year-old yelled, “Here band-aids!” and threw some feminine hygiene products into our cart.

Danny prepping for a one mile Fun Run of school kids this morning: I’m going to win! I’ll get the most sacks in the race!
#footballfan #nosacksinracing #pleasedontshoveanybody Continue Reading →

February 8, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

Ask Maralee: How to Encourage a Caseworker

*After too long of an absence, I’m resurrecting the Ask Maralee series. If you’ve got a question for me about parenting, foster care, large family logistics,  or anything else, feel free to send me an email at amusingmaralee@gmail.com*

Dear Maralee,

I have 2 kiddos with us right now in foster care. This is only our second placement and we have only been licensed since March 2016. As new to this journey as we are, I can tell the kids’ current caseworker is amazing! She emails or calls at least weekly, keeping me posted on all visits and therapy appointments. She is always available to answer my questions (and I have many since I don’t even know the “language” as well as I would like at this point). She came every week for the first month to be sure kids were settling in well and we had all the support we needed. She has joined me at school for an IEP meeting. She is always prompt with paperwork and greets all the people living here with kindness and care. We love working with her! Honestly, if these kids get to return home someday, I want to take whatever case she has next– she is that wonderful to work with.

Other than praising her to her her supervisor (which I’ve already done) what can I do to help encourage this wonderful caseworker in doing her hard job so well? I know how hard just caring for these dear kids is– and I feel so thankful to work with such a helpful professional! Thanks for your blog and fb too! Always encouraging me to keep loving these kids right where they are!



Dear Sarah,

I love this question and I’m SO thankful you are having such a positive experience with your caseworker. She certainly sounds like the kind of caseworker we want to keep doing this for a long time so kids in tough situations can get the attentive care they need.


I know the first way I wanted to reward caseworker was by making their job as easy as possible– easier said than done, right? But as foster parents, there are definitely ways we can bless these competent caseworkers by not overtaxing them. Be a good diplomat, play well with others (especially the child’s family), send the caseworker encouraging updates whenever you can. I would occasionally send caseworkers sweet pictures of the kids with a short note about how well they were doing (if they were, of course) and how much we appreciated having a caseworker we knew would care. So many of these caseworkers got into this work because they are passionate about the wellbeing of children, but then get lost in a sea of paperwork, bureaucracy, and angry adults. When we can remind them of WHY we all do what we do for these kids, I think that can help keep them inspired.

Continue Reading →

February 6, 2017
by Maralee

GIVEAWAY from Letters of Love Designs *CLOSED*

PEOPLE. It’s almost Galentine’s Day. And I want to give you a present I think you’re going to love.

I’m excited to share with you about Nikki’s story of what she creates and why, but if you’re a “Get to the Point, Lady.” type of person– to enter the giveaway, comment below with a word you think would make a good sign (last name? virtue? inside joke?) and follow the Letters of Love Designs Facebook page for a second entry (let her know you were sent by A Musing Maralee). You could win either a “LOVED” sign or one of equal value from Letters of Love Designs.

I had such a fun time working with Nikki to create something special for my home. Just looking through her site, I had a couple favorites, but Nikki was so great about creating something just for our family that said what I hope my kids feel most secure in. I want them to know they are LOVED. There’s something about the “d” on the end of that word that reminds me this isn’t a feeling, it’s a state of being. It is what we are. I want my husband to know he’s loved even when we disagree. I want to be reminded that I’m loved by God even when I feel most alone.

Nikki let me pick a Scripture reference to go with it and I picked one of my favorites:

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

This is such an obscure verse I vividly remember from a song on the “Glory Revealed” album. I will never forget vacuuming the nursery at midnight, too excited to sleep the night before we were going to fly to Liberia to bring home our son. I was lost in worry about all the potential problems of adoption, the issues our child might have, the possibility I would be a terrible mom, all the ways the rest of our lives could go wrong starting with this trip. Then this song came on and over the roar of the vacuum I felt reminded that however hard this road would be, I had a God who took great delight in me and delighted in this child, too. It gave me an indescribable peace and continues to be a great reminder as I work to make sure my kids know how loved they are by me and also by God– that HIS love is what inspires and strengthens mine.

I love what Nikki created and how it contributes to the feeling of safety and security in my home. And I want her to make something beautiful for you, too! Something special about her signs is how she takes photographs that relate to the word she’s spelling. Her sports-themed ones are especially cute and would be great gifts for a coach or athlete in your life. She’s got a gift for taking pictures that could look totally disjointed and creating something cohesive out of them. I love that the letters in “LOVED” look both tender (pinks! a flower!) and strong (architectural elements! iron!). This is a lot more than just taking pictures that look like letters, but an entire creative process. And the wood sign itself is really solid and looks like it will survive any future events where a rogue bouncy ball tries to dislodge it from the shelf. (These are important things to consider when you have six kids.)

It is always so exciting and inspirational for me to talk to women who have found a way to turn their passion into a business. It’s a joy to share their stories with you! So to give you a better idea about what Nikki does and who she is, let’s hear from her.


What made you start your own business?
My passion has always been for art and creating things.  I’m actually an RN, worked on a pediatric unit since 1995, but in 2009, after having my 2nd little boy, I was feeling the need to bring my creative-soul back to life. I combined my love for photography & words, and began photographing things that look like letters and making them into wood signs. Over time, I’ve been able to fine-tune it, and grow it into a business. I don’t think I started out even planning for it to grow, but I think maybe God did. In May of 2015, it had grown enough that I was able to step away from the hospital completely, and work on this full-time, to be with my family more, and enjoy the artistic side of life for awhile.  Continue Reading →

February 3, 2017
by Maralee

A Life in Status- September #2, 2016

Be part of the fun on Facebook and Twitter.

Nothing gets your adrenaline pumping in the morning like the email for online parent teacher conference sign-ups when you realize you have to coordinate three conferences at consecutive times before any other parent signs up for the times you need or else you’ll be stuck at the school for an hour between conferences.

I needed to see this picture today and I think maybe you did, too (I’m sharing it with permission from my friend). In a world of perfect birthday parties, spotless homes, stylist coordinated outfits, and all manner of other things that make me wonder if I just might be failing at life in general and motherhood specifically, I’m thankful for people like my friend who dared to post a picture of her kids sliding into the pile of dirty laundry at the bottom of the stairs. They look pretty happy to me.
#youcanpinthat #letsbethatfriend

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting
As a young girl I was the proud owner of a Cabbage Patch Big Wheel. Every Sunday my mom would make me change out of my church dress and into my play clothes before riding it, which I thought was dumb. One Sunday I snuck out without changing and rode my Big Wheel while still wearing my ruffled dress, which billowed behind me in all its glory. . . until it got caught in the back wheel and choked me. This was one of many instances when I realized my mother was a wise woman, although I never told my mom this happened until this last week when we had a good laugh about it. It was a good reminder to me that there are going to be times my kids don’t listen to me and have to learn to trust me by making their own mistakes. I hate for them to be sitting there trying to figure out how to unwind their dress from the Big Wheel tire on their own, but sometimes those are the lessons that stick with you and help affirm that your mom really does know what she’s talking about. So thanks for that, Cabbage Patch Big Wheel. I’ll never forget you.

Image may contain: people sitting

A piece of glitter just came out of my ear.

I hear people describe this as such a divisive election season. I disagree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen our country so unified about how terrible our choices are. I don’t like your guy, but I also don’t like my guy and mostly I wish there was another way (but I also looked at that other guy and he’s not so great either). Whatever way you decide to vote (or not vote), I think we’re all equally embarrassed about this situation which feels sort of comforting.

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February 2, 2017
by Maralee

Ask Maralee: Building Trust (with your actions)

In my last “Ask Maralee” post I addressed how my family has worked to build trust with our kids through the words we’ve used and how we talk to them. Today I want to address how we’ve used our actions and the environment we create to help facilitate the trust and attachment process. Here are 5 ways we build trust by what we do:

Prioritize following through. If I say I’m going to be home from an event before the kids go to bed, then that’s what I want to do. If I promise to take them out for a treat, then that’s what I’m going to do. I want them to know they can count on me to be a person of my word. This also means that I tend to under promise and over deliver. I rarely make promises because I know how often plans can change and I know how devastated my kids are when something keeps me from following through. I am an expert at the phrases, “I’m hoping to. . . “, “Right now, the plan is. . . “, “It would be really fun if we could. . . ” That way I’m not saying “Yes. We are going to go to the County Fair on Saturday.” but I’m expressing my desire to do that if it all works out.

Get down, look in their eyes, touch their shoulder. I know this could be a whole post in and of itself, but I think using our body language to create a trusting environment is HUGELY important. If we’re having an important conversation, I make sure I’m on eye-level with my child. I read something that called it “heart level” which I like even better. Is my heart at the same physical level as my child’s? Are we having heart-to-heart communication? I can’t do that while I’m making spaghetti or on my phone. That means sometimes I tell them I need to postpone a conversation until I can give them my full attention. And when I do give them my full attention, it involves my whole body. I have kids sit on my lap or I have my hand on their shoulder while we talk or I’ve got my hand on their cheek. I have one child who we regularly have our conversations with our foreheads pressed together. There are also times where side-by-side works best (doing a puzzle, washing dishes, driving in the car) because it feels like less pressure on them, but in general, I want to connect with them with my whole body when I sense they need it.

Look for opportunities for casual affectionate contact. I remember this so strongly from our days as houseparents at a group home. It was SO important to relationship building for me to find casual, appropriate ways to touch these big boys who were so craving attention and affection but didn’t always know how to ask for it. Of course there are some kids that will struggle with this and you need to be conscious of that and not push things on them that don’t feel comfortable. But for the rest of the kids, be intentional about finding ways to physically connect with them. Here are my favorite options: offer a back scratch, pat their back when you walk by, hug them, hold their face and give them a compliment, help them put lotion on their feet/legs/arms, play with their hair, give them a quick squeeze, pick them up, read to them on your lap or close to you on the couch, snuggle on the couch for movies, wrestle. Each of these activities will have an age range that’s appropriate and you need to figure out what that is for your child and your family dynamics. Sometimes when you’re dealing with kids from trauma, they may need some of those toddler type of interactions more than you’d anticipate because they didn’t get them when they were young. Always be willing to change what you’re doing if a child communicates (verbally or non verbally) that they’re uncomfortable. Continue Reading →