Welcome to my circus.

January 11, 2018
by Maralee

In Praise of the “Single Serving Size” Foster Parent

In the world of foster care, there is a certain subset of foster parents we like to glorify. You know all about them because they were probably featured on your local news. Over the last couple decades they’ve served 67 kids. The news footage showed them flipping through a photo album of all the kids they’ve helped and sorting through Christmas cards they’ve received from those children over the years. It’s heartwarming and inspirational.

But it’s a rarity. And it shouldn’t always be the goal.


I get to provide support to foster parents through my foster care agency. I watch bright-eyed newbies join our community with enthusiasm and idealism. I watch seasoned foster parents grieve the losses of this life and struggle with knowing if they should keep at it. I see people who continue to be passionate and those who feel drained. In it all, I have come to believe there isn’t one right way to do foster care, and there’s definitely a need for the “Single Use Only” foster parent.

It would be great if foster parents were trained, licensed and then were able to serve continuously for decades. It’s great to have wisdom and that wisdom comes from experience. It’s helpful to have people who understand the system and are well-connected from years of networking. But sometimes God calls you to serve one child, with your whole heart. And that’s it. Continue Reading →

January 9, 2018
by Maralee

Dear Joanna, Welcome to the World of Large Families

Congrats, Jojo (Can I call you Jojo?)!  The news is out and I’m thrilled that you and Chip are welcoming Baby #5 into your family. You are about to make the transition from a regular family to a Large Family. Gear up, sister.

I know having four kids may make you feel like a large family already, but once you have five you move into a new category. Five children is when you can be out with HALF your kids and people will stop you to say, “You sure have your hands full.” Five children is when people feel compelled to safely assume you’re Catholic or Mormon. Five children is when you can’t travel in your average vehicle anymore. Five children is when you start having to get to church early just so you can find a pew where your whole family can sit together.

Continue Reading →

January 4, 2018
by Maralee


My friend Kathy posted this picture of earrings she got from a mutual friend’s new business, Dangle. They were adorable. And affordable. I was hooked.


If you want to enter the giveaway to win your own pair, here’s what to do:

-Comment here with what color leather you think would be fun for your earrings. (animal print? plaid? SO many options!)
-Go “like” the Dangle Facebook page and let her know (on her share of this post) you were sent by A Musing Maralee. Be sure I’m tagged so I can see it.

I’ve got my own pair and they are my go to earrings for classing up any outfit. I am kind of persnickety about earrings. If they’re too heavy, I just don’t enjoy wearing them. This has meant I’ve stayed away from a lot of the big styles, even though I think they’re so cute. But these earrings are something special.

Continue Reading →

December 29, 2017
by Maralee

My Kids are Not Your Sales Pitch

I went to a concert about a year ago. It was a “Christian” concert and I guess as is customary, there was a sales pitch in the middle for a child sponsorship organization. The guy who gave the pitch was an adoptive father. He wanted to talk about the desperate situations of children who need help all over the world. In order to describe the problem, he talked about the situations of his children.

He used pictures of his children. He gave their medical information, including a diagnosis that carries a certain social stigma, even if it shouldn’t. He gave detailed and heart-wrenching descriptions of the circumstances around their arrivals at the orphanage.

I was furious.

All I could think about was my kids. My kids who have difficult stories that belong to them. I imagined someone putting their faces on the giant screen and then giving details about their lives. I thought about how humiliated my kids would feel. I thought about what I’ve learned as I’ve listened to them express how it feels to have somebody talk about you like a charity case, to have someone tell stories about your most private and heartbreaking moments.

Continue Reading →

December 21, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

A Slacker Mom’s Guide to Christmas Magic

I am the kind of mom who ruins magical moments. I’m no good at hospitality, my baking is subpar, and my husband is the one who decorates our house for Christmas. I don’t like the hype and expectations of the holidays. I’m basically about 75% Grinch.

We have a lot of kids, a lot of extended family, a lot of church and school activities and a little budget. This means we are busy and poor—not a great combination for making the most of this magical time of year. We work to keep things simple because we don’t have the resources to be fancy. In that process, we have figured out some things that work for us and I’m happy to share them with you. I’d love to hear your tips, too!

Go see Christmas lights. This is where we dedicate an evening to enjoying other people’s ability to really get into the Christmas spirit. We pick a special treat (I’m only half ashamed to tell you of our love for McDonald’s holiday pies which taste like eggnog baked in a sugar cookie), get some kind of seasonal coffee for Mom and Dad and then just drive around for two hours. We take a couple addresses of places we know will be fun and then wander around. This usually involves some level of husband and wife tension (as all driving trips do), but we make it work. This requires not much money, not too much time, and zero preparation. Slacker moms can do this.

Sibling Secret Santa. Our kids draw names and then buy one small ($10) gift for that person. We’ve been doing this with kids since our group home days and it truly is one of our favorite parts of Christmas. The kids love picking something out for each other and trying to keep it a secret. Those gifts are often their most treasured possessions and they can recite who gave them what for years past. When I was a kid, I remember a year or two we also did sneaky nice things for that person in the days leading up to Christmas (secretly cleaning their room, leaving them a nice note, putting candy in their dresser, etc.). If you are really short on funds, you could just do the nice acts and skip the gifts. Continue Reading →

December 18, 2017
by Maralee

Home is Where Your Childhood Pictures Are

Before Thanksgiving I found myself doing a deep clean of our basement in preparation for the return of someone special to us. He had lived with us for years during our group home days, then returned about a decade later (this last winter) to live with us for another six months. While he’s now living hours away, he was coming “home” for Thanksgiving.

As I was dusting a shelf, I moved this little framed photo.

I can remember his proud face as he handed me this treasure he created in Vacation Bible School. Many times these items were given to me with specific instructions to, “Save this for my mom.” I dutifully followed those instructions, so there was a special joy when something was made just for me. This little picture (along with a similar one from another one of our boys) has been proudly displayed in every home we’ve lived in since it was given to me over ten years ago.

I’ve packed it up and moved it from home to home—homes this young man would never know. We’ve never stopped caring for him or the other boys whose pictures we also have around our house. As I was dusting around that picture, I was reminded of the only place that has MY childhood pictures proudly displayed. It’s my parents’ house. My safe place. My home. Continue Reading →

December 15, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

It’s Okay to Walk Out on Your Family (for a minute)

Parenting can be exhausting and frustrating, even when nobody is doing anything specifically “wrong.” Just the general chaos and noise of parenting can start to drain you. If you’re like me, that draining feeling can turn to anger pretty easily.

I don’t want to parent angry. I work pretty hard to avoid it. That means making room for self-care and taking breaks as needed.


I worry that as mothers we feel like we can’t take a break. Like, we literally CAN’T or something terrible will happen. If we aren’t looking directly at our children 100% of the time, they won’t survive. No wonder we’re feeling exhausted and angry. I just don’t think it has to be that way.

I wanted to share with you a little sanity saving practice I utilize to keep my head above water when I feel like I’m drowning in the needs of children. First, let me paint a picture for you: Continue Reading →

December 13, 2017
by Maralee

GIVEAWAY from Pixie Dots *CLOSED*

I love personalized jewelry. There’s something so sweet about being able to carry the people who are important to you with you wherever you go. When I’m away from home, I take a necklace with me that represents my kids. They know I’m carrying them in my heart and will notice when I’m wearing it in pictures. So I was thrilled to find the work of Liz at Pixie Dots.

If you want to enter the giveaway to win your own personalized piece, here’s what I want you to do:

-Comment here with what you would pick with a $25 gift certificate: necklace or bracelet

-Go “like” the Pixie Dots Facebook page and let her know (on her share of this post) you were sent by A Musing Maralee. Be sure I’m tagged so I can see it.

I worked with Liz to create a special piece for a special family in my life. They have a new baby and he’s already stolen a big chunk of my heart. I was thrilled to be able to have Liz design something unique that would honor these precious boys. Continue Reading →

December 11, 2017
by Maralee

5 Steps to Decluttering Before Christmas

Forget Spring Cleaning. What most of us need is a massive Pre Christmas Decluttering. There’s nothing like the prospect of adding a bunch more toys, clothes, and books to help you realize your house is already overwhelmed with stuff. And that’s not even addressing the extra clutter of all the holiday decorations we’re setting out. The poor Baby Jesus is getting crammed in next to the pile of books I’m sure I’ll get around to reading at some point, while the Wise Men are stacked on top of the mugs that won’t fit in the cabinet because I haven’t purged the old sippy cups yet.

Just me?

I’m guessing not.

I’ve written previously about our quest for some level of functional minimalism. This isn’t easy when you have six kids. Six kids means just feeding and clothing our family requires a lot of stuff. But having a large family also means you start to prioritize the things that matter. We don’t have room to let things get too out of control. I’m pretty sure we have about the same number of toys now that we did when we had just one or two kids. The kids are more interested in playing with their siblings and less interested in massive playsets.

I’ve also learned that I think better when I’m not drowning in stuff. Stuff requires care. It needs batteries and dusting and organizing and drawer space. The less stuff I have, the less stuff I have to spend time managing. Especially during this holiday season, I need a simpler pace and I need to prioritize.

As we’ve had to limit the amount of stuff we bring into the house, I’ve learned a few things about decluttering and living with an intentional attitude toward the things we own. If you want to work on pairing down before the Christmas chaos overwhelms you, here are my tips:

Go room by room. It can be overwhelming to try to declutter the whole house at once. Instead, start in one room and focus on what you can do there to make it seem manageable. Pick a different room each day and reward yourself for getting it finished. Be thorough—get under the beds, pull everything out of the closet. Don’t be afraid to make a big mess so you can see exactly what you’re dealing with and have a better idea about what you need to get rid of. Continue Reading →

December 10, 2017
by Maralee

Forget ’50 Shades.’ Moms Today are Hot for Hopper.

Do you still think women are swooning over billionaire playboys who wants to dominate us and maybe we hope we can tame? Nah. Who has time and emotional energy to sink into that ridiculousness? Moms today know what we like. We like Hopper.

If you’ve been watching the “Stranger Things” phenomenon unfold, you may be familiar with the surly, middle-aged officer Jim Hopper. He personifies “dad bod” and has vices you imagine he’d probably be done with if the show wasn’t set in the 1980s. He’s not wealthy and it would be a hard stretch to call him “charming.” Other than the obvious “man in uniform” cliche, what makes this guy the kind of man women would fall for in spite of all logic?

He makes you feel safe. Officer Hopper is the guy you can call when things are going terribly. Like, “your kid has been sucked into an alternate dimension” terribly. He’s going to do the right thing, even if it means risking his life. He’s brave and coolheaded even in the most bizarre circumstances. When you’re at your most crazy, he will listen. He wants you to know it’s going to be okay, although all signs point to mass governmental conspiracies. Even his everyman look is the kind of thing that makes you feel unintimidated and accepted in his presence. Continue Reading →