Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Where's the tragedy?

I woke up this morning and felt like I had finally snapped back to my senses after being knocked off my horse earlier this week.

Yes, my husband's job is set to expire like a jug of rancid milk on December 31.

Yes, there's a chance that a by-the-book social worker might decide to relocate the two precious little boys who I consider my sons.

But really ... seriously ... life is good, people.

There's a whole list of things that have roots in my heart; permanent, life-long sureties that I will bank on into eternity. As the song says, they can't take that away from me.

Among the blessings I am counting as Thanksgiving looms:

  • Logan, age six and a half, who still reminds me every morning that our one-on-one cuddle time is the one thing that he looks forwards to more than anything.
  • Posing five wiggly little people for their first-ever sibling photo shoot. The look in Atticus' eyes when I asked if he wanted to hold Manolin. Logan skirting the edges, hamming it up. Oliver refusing the smile, but flashing his biggest, goofiest grin ever when Jo whispered "choo-choo" in his ear.
  • Leaning into the warm, perfectly me-shaped space against my hubby's chest on the night the news came down and hearing him sigh, "Man, it's a good thing I got over that manly 'defining yourself by what you do for a living thing,' huh?"
  • Having to take off my glasses when I bathe Oliver because the boy splashes just that little bit too much.
  • Being able to pick up the phone and hear Benny's sweet, always-there-for-you voice.
  • Waking up at four a.m. and knowing that there's a baby (a baby, thank you Jesus!) sleeping not five feet from my bed.
  • Having a hardened social worker with a chip on her should compliment me by saying that my home is among one of the most peaceful she's ever visited.
  • The sensitive spirit of my Atticus, who sat on my lap last night and told me that if I got any more beautiful, he would have to hide me away.
  • A confidence that this life is by no means anything but a dress rehearsal for an everlasting party with my Savior.
  • Jo's absolute selflessness when it comes to being available for a nonverbal, developmentally delayed almost two year-old who demands of her time and only offers giggles and more demands in trade for her love.
  • Introducing wriggly, smiling Manolin to rice cereal ... and watching him spit it right back out in disgust.
  • An email from my cousin reminding me that this, too, shall pass.

A person who can come up with a list even half that long has no business asking for more. So consider me officially off the navel gazing wagon. Life is just too good to bemoan the growing pains as God works out His plan.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Humbled, again

I am simply in awe at the outpouring of prayer and encouragement that has flowed my way in just 24 hours.

Most amazing to me is the fact that God never fails to stir reaction in the hearts of others when I need to hear from Him most of all. Scripture, hugs of both the flesh and cyber varieties, and notes of sympathy have fallen on my heart with the cadence they would assume if I was hearing from my Father Himself.

This is the beauty of community in Christ, is it not?

So thank you to everyone who has commented, written and called. You have made a terrible blow that much less crippling.

I also wanted to pass along a comment made by our social worker:

"Work in the stock room at Lowe's if you have to, but whatever you do, don't be unemployed."

This was what she had to say after reading the newspaper story published this a.m. regarding my husband's position being cut. Yes, folks, there's nothing that makes a man stand quite as tall as having a newspaper story publicize the fact that you'll be unemployed come the new year.

We will be heeding her advice, by the way. No one is prying these babies from my arms that easily.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The other shoe

...has dropped.

Dh will be unemployed as of January 1.

Hard to think about much else, so forgive me if my blogging sinks to an all-time low in terms of both quality and quantity.

I will be utterly transparent and admit that I care about not much else right now, here, in the moment, TODAY other than making sure that this sudden development in no way interferes with adopting Oliver and Manolin. All else pales in comparison, as you can probably imagine.

We will survive. We will move forward. God WILL provide.

I just pray that the provision includes the two little men I've come to love so deeply.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's the economy, stupid!

The national numbers aren't looking very good, which means that the local numbers are even worse. My dh is currently in a holding pattern, wondering if his job will continue to exist into the new year.

I ought to be panicking. I ought to be feeling a wrench in my gut. I ought to be asking "Why us?"

Have I had those moments? In a way. I called Benny during a car ride shortly after getting the news and had a good fifteen minutes of, "Tell me this isn't h
appening when I've got two children I'm waiting to finalize on!" After a nice emotional dump, I caught a glimpse of Oliver sleeping in the rear view mirror. His head was cocked to the side, his arm resting on Manolin's car seat. The row behind him was filled with the beautiful stair steps that are my biological offspring.

How can I look upon the faces of my children and not know that God is good, all the time? How can I possibly doubt His grace and mercy when I take a moment to contemplate the blessings I never even asked for coupled alongside those for whom I have fought with all of my heart?

There's nothing wrong with His justice. His timing. His plan. No matter what it looks like in those moments of blindsided shock ... God is still God. The economy may be tanking, but God is still in the business of ruling the universe.

And I'm still in the business of having faith.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fast track

Manolin's case worker called to tell me that his case being fast-tracked for termination of parental rights.

He "should be" (this is the state, remember) legally free in six months or so.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

It's easy to forget that Christianity is not supposed to be a comfortable thing.

This Advent season ...


It's not about what your kids open. How beautiful the tree looks. How many tasty cookies you can bake. How you can keep the in-laws happy.

It's about JESUS.

I urge you to visit Advent Conspiracy and Rethinking Christmas. Because really ... what do you want your children to remember about Christmas? The full stockings and cool sing alongs? Or how God crushed the status quo with birth of a child?

A Special Guest Review: "The Missing Link: FOUND"

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is the ability to utilize skills in context. So often, in classrooms, things are contrived. I offer up exhibit A: play money. Personally, I've never owned any of those faux "math manipulatives." I taught my kids how to count using (gasp!) real money. If we were in a pinch (because I frankly don't have any $100 bills just warming the kitchen counter), I nabbed a few pieces of Monopoly money and kept going. After the child seemed to have a decent enough grasp on things, I let them experience the joy of making their own purchases. Thus far, I have yet to turn out a child that seems somehow lacking in financial prowess due to my stubborn refusal to buy a bin of plastic coins at Lakeshore.

This desire to give kids a real-life, hands-on experience is what led homeschooling
mom Felice Gerwitz to say "Go for it!" when her daughter Christina expressed an interest in writing a novel. I can only imagine Felice trying to put her finger on exactly what Language Arts skills were being perfected as her daughter undertook the daunting, self-assigned task of becoming an author. The end result is anything but a long-winded, plagiarized treatise on The Scarlet Letter. Together, Christina and Felice have published "The Truth Seekers Mystery Series"--a trio of youth mysteries with a Christian worldview.

Inspired by Felice, I chose to let my own budding authoress, Jo, wear the reviewer's hat here at Books and Bairns. I'm counting this as Language Arts for the day. And
reading. And probably life skills/job training. :-)

The Missing Link: Found review, by Jo (age 11)

The Missing Link: Found is a positive and encouraging Christian book for kids 11 an up. This book encourages kids to talk to God and walk with Him every day. It also introduces scientific theories in a fun mystery. Readers will be refreshed by the fact that the main characters face big and small problems, but they always turn to God. This is one of the best Christian mysteries I have ever read!

Plunged into a baffling real-life riddle, Anna and Christian Murphy find themselves in the middle of their uncle's archaeology dig. This is no ordinary dig: Mike Murphy believes he is excavating the supposed "missing link" that will prove that the theory of evolution is true. Anna and Christian are Christians who don't subscribe to the theory, but their cousin, David, is pretty sure that it's correct. After Uncle Mike is hospitalized, it's up to the Murphy teens and their father to finish the dig. "Arcadia Man"--as the fossil is called--holds more secrets than they suspected. Can the Murphys uncover "Arcadia Man," expose a gang of thieves and still trust God through it all?

This book is fun, fast-paced and exciting. It was a light read. If you like mysteries, you'll enjoy trying to unravel the puzzle before the author lays it all out for you. There are plenty of twists and turns here. I was kept guessing up until the very end.

One shortcoming of this book is found in the "Letter From the Editor" at the end of the story. Right before a whole list of resources that you can use to follow up on the science presented in the story, there's a note saying that most of the things written about are true and have evidence to support them ... except for the main ending zinger! I can't tell you what it was without giving it away but I was really disappointed. It made for a good story ending, but it would have been better if it was real.

I recommend this book!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Trial and Error

Manolin's BioMom entered a guilty plea to the charges against her--the ones that left a seven week old baby with broken bones, a bruised spirit and a chance to break the cycle of neglect and abuse that has all but consumed the rest of his biological family.

A judge accepted the plea, and will be deciding her fate at a later time.

Pleading guilty looks good. It speaks to the optimistic, reform-minded members of the court who want to see change in the hearts and actions of the accused. It admits liability. It offers a glimmer of hope for a second chance. For the people who sit on the bench day in and day out, it is an uncommon breath of fresh air: culpability.

I did it. I hurt him. I shouldn't have. What next?

What next, indeed?

Manolin's V-Gal assures me that she is pushing for termination. His social worker is outraged at the entire case and says she is chomping at the bit to keep him out of the hands which perpetrated his abuse. Everything, everywhere says that this baby is home now. That the cradle he steals forty minute naps in will be a treasured part of his history. That the memories we have already made will be retold to him on his wedding day. That his last name will be the same as ours by next Christmas.

And yet, doubt lingers. My husband, reporting on the case today, gave life to the words that I really didn't want to hear:

"Be careful, Mary Grace. I'm not saying that you hold your heart back. I'm just saying that, well ... pleading guilty looks really good, babe."

Pleading guilty--admitting to sin--looks good. And why not? Coming clean before the Lord is one of the pivotal acts that cements our salvation. But the second step ... that's where the bluster of our good intentions is burned away and our surrender is complete.

What next, Lord? I'm giving it all to You. Lead me. You're in control.

Is Manolin's BioMom there? When the One who knit her together in her mother's womb looks into her heart, what does He see? Repentance? Manipulation? Fear? Anger?

I can't say what the judge will decide is an appropriate prison sentence for Manolin's BioMom. I won't allow my thoughts to wander to the places where my faith is stretched taut and I hand his round, wiggly baby body over to a person who once felt justified in repeatedly inflicting harm on the infant who had only weeks before floated safe and warm just below her heart.

Today, I am thankful that I am not the Lord. I am thankful that I do not have the job of defining fairness versus justness or of dispensing either righteous vengeance or undeserved mercy. But I am so, so thankful that there is EL ROI who does these things ... and who loves us, in spite of it all.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tell me again how this one goes?

My hardest year of homeschooling was 2003-2004. Jo was a big first-grader: reading like a whiz, tackling science like a pro and antsy to get her hands on some "real writing" (that would be cursive to the rest of us). I felt a massive burden to be all things to this little beacon of academic brightness: the teacher she deserved, the mommy she needed and the cheerleader she looked to for support.

Shouldering the responsibility of my own expectations was hard enough ... never mind the preschooler and toddler I had hiding under that SuperMom cape.

Atticus was three and Logan was
one that year, and they were into all kinds of craziness. While I loved--relished, even--the activities that left my kitchen floor covered in soapy bubbles and an entire bookshelf dumped onto the living room floor, the fact was that I struggled to mesh teaching and parenting.

Of course, that season came to an end. Jo learned far more than I ever even attempted to teach her. Atticus somehow started reading three-letter words. And Logan--left to his own devices for larger chunks of time than I ever allowed Jo--discovered that his voice is best expressed with paint, a brush and liberal quantities of paper. It was a good thing, this frantic period of being all things to three small people.

I'm drawing on this knowledge again as I learn to balance life with five children whose needs range from warm bottles every three hours to sensitive counseling about the signs of impending menstruation. If it was that productive last time, surely, God will use it again, I tell myself as I let Mr. Demme carry the bulk of the math tutoring and head back to the laundry room to throw yet another load of diapers into the dryer.

In God's economy nothing--not even a season best labeled "how on earth am I supposed to do this well?"--is wasted. This time of clicking pieces into place will serve my family in ways that I can not even begin to imagine. Already, I'm getting flashes of the maturity and selflessness that is being built in the hearts of my oldest three children. I'm watching as I let little things that I've held onto slip through my fingers with the new found perspective of someon
e who once again has lost the luxury of micromanaging. Jo, Atticus and Logan are rising to the occasion ... just as Jo did in first grade, when her well-intentioned mother only managed to follow through on about half of her goals.

Is that your plan, Lord? Is this less about me and more about them?

One day, I'll figure it out. In the meantime, I'll keep trying to comb my memory banks for
exactly how you manage to get a full chapter's worth of reading done when there are diapers to change and noses to wipe. It'll come to me. Just like riding a bike, right?

Calling in backup

It's true: there are times in homeschooling when you realize that you need to take things a little slower. In the space that those weeks or months occupy, you sometimes find yourself employing schooling methods that otherwise would not have appealed to you. Such is the case, for me, with Time4Learning. Normally, I am not a huge fan of across-the-board computer-based homeschooling. I use games and websites to supplement but shy away from the full curricula approach. However ... I was given the opportunity to review this website recently and, with the addition of Manolin to our home, I decided that it was God's provision to allow me to be guilt-free while the three R's sink on the totem pole of my priorities for a time. I signed the bigger kids up (which was as easy as setting up a blogger account, by the way) and have been filling in the gaps with the Time4Learning lessons. I'll keep you posted on my thoughts.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Voting begins today in the Homeschool Blog Awards. I am absolutely humbled to have been nominated in two categories this year. Who knew that three people out there would take the time to punch this blog's name and complete address into an online form?

I realize that the odds of me winning SUPER-HOMESCHOOLER are roughly the same ones I'd be up against in persuading the bulk of dh's family that homeschooling is a good thing. Just being nominated is a bit of a chuckle for me because frankly, today I feel like anything but a super homeschooler. Kids run amok will do that to you, won't they? Total disclosure moment: I took the drastic and unprecedented step of banning any and all things Star Wars from our house as a punishment this morning. We'll see if that whips a certain disastrous duo of brothers into shape. I sure hope so, because the only discipline I can conjure in my mind that would be more severe would be denying them the actual right to breathe.

I was also nominated for Best Variety, which I think is a compliment--although I admit that the mention of ADD and hyper-focus made me scroll through a few month's worth of posts and wonder what a professional psychiatrist would make of the strange blend of homeschooling, theology, foster care, adoption and politics that is my life. If "variety" is a nice way of saying "eclectic, rambling and sometimes aimless" then I'll wear the label with pride--even if I find myself near the back of the pack. :-)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Strengths and weaknesses

What if one of the greatest strengths of homeschooling is also its greatest weakness?

I've been mulling this over all afternoon, thanks to a phone call from an acquaintance who had no idea that she was pouring boiling water on the wasp's nest that is my mind.

In a simple description of a situation she's facing with a new intern in her workplace, this bright, experienced professional rocked my world:

"It's been a lot of work getting her settled in because frankly, she's a homeschooler and everything has been so tailored to fit her learning style and needs that she's not really sure what to do when she has to just learn something point blank or soldier on through the boring stuff."


Take a minute to think that through. A young lady, aspiring to a particular profession, has taken the initiative and pursued an internship in a field that she thinks may be her calling. Clearly, she met the criteria set forth for the hiring of such interns and shows some promise in the field. However, her transition into the position has been rocky because her educational training has not challenged her to persevere through topics in which she has little interest, or to simply absorb information by rote repetition.

In other words, the creativity, inventiveness and customization of homeschooling has, in this instance, failed to produce a desirable employee. This young woman will have to garner those less-than-thrilling, but oh-so-vital skills called "real life" on the fly. With a potential future employer watching.

Pondering this has been very convicting for me. Like most homeschooling parents, I try to gear things towards the interests my children are displaying at any given time. I aim to make learning the hard stuff relatively painless. I strive to sprinkle success here and there when the light bulb is taking a bit longer to pop on. I listen carefully to my children and I make sure information is given to them in ways that fit their processing styles.

Is that so wrong?

I 've never thought that it was. After all, isn't the goal to raise children who love learning so much that they can be placed in a situation like this young intern is facing and take to the new environment like a duck to water? This is what I've told myself will happen. By the time my children graduate from our homeschool, I've always believed, they may not know everything, but they'll know how to find out about anything.

But what if I'm wrong? What if the educational professionals I've disregarded for the past seven years have theories that actually hold water? What if my brother-in-law, who is finishing his master's degree in school administration is right: if you change math curriculum every time you decide it "isn't a good fit," or if you plan out one course, then ditch it for another when you suddenly find an interest in a new area, then you're setting your children up for a lifetime of frustration when they realize that college, workplaces, etc., don't follow those same, "have it your way" rules.

This train is nowhere near the station. I'm not really sure where I'm going to land on this, so I'm throwing it out to my readers. What do you think? Is flexibility a strength in homeschooling? A weakness? Both? Let's discuss ...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day, 2008

I had a wonderful post planned in my head for today, but ReneƩ stole it. :-) Go to her blog (Steppin' Heavenward) if you want to read what I consider some very grounded thoughts on today's election.

And, in lighter election fare ...

If you've ever doubted whether or not you should be allowed to wield the mighty tool that is your right to vote, click here to take a simple quiz.

Here are my results.

You Should Be Allowed to Vote

You got 13/15 questions correct.

Generally speaking, you're very well informed.

If you vote this election, you'll know exactly who (and what) you'll be voting for.

You're likely to have strong opinions, and you have the facts to back them up.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Settling in

Just wanted to post quickly that all is well here with the newest little addition. I have spoken with Manolin's social worker and his GAL and am very optimistic about his case. Not to mention that he's adorable.

Now if only Oliver would fall in love with his new status as big brother ...

Review: Got books?

Admit it. You love books. Not just in that, "Yeah, I could look at a new book," kind of way, either. You love books in the way that makes you ponder just how many books you can put on your kids birthday lists and still make it look like they were the ones who made the selections.

Not that I've ever done that or anything. :-)

Enter Homeschool Library Builder.

This site has fabulous deals on books that homeschoolers salivate over. There's even a yard sale cheap section: a $1 bin, a $2 bin, $3 bin and a $5 bin. A quick look through the $1 bin turned up books from the Anne of Avonlea series, among others. Not your typical cast-offs!

In addition to your routine search by subjects, Homeschool Library Builder also has a tool that allows you to narrow your results by curriculum. I entered "Ambleside" as a search term and was rewarded with books in the Library Catalog listed by Ambleside Online Level. I noticed that this was a possibility with Tapestry of Grace, as well, and know that something like that would take a lot of work out of the more labor-intensive curricula available.

Memberships are available, but they are free. Essentially, you are just creating an account to make purchases, with one important caveat: for each dollar you spend, you earn a Book Point. Fifteen book points translates to $1 in your account to use toward future purchases.

The company also offers a newsletter, fundraising options, referral bonuses, and more. Definitely something to add to your bookmarks!

Review: A family Christmas, MG style

My mom knows how to do Christmas.

This is a woman who never met a Nutcracker she didn't like. Who slapped velvet and candy striping on every flat surface in the house. Who to this day still owns both a hat
and a stocking with my name written in glitter across the cuff. Who invested bundles in those animatronic Santas sipping coffee, Tiggers bouncing on sleds and skeletal white deer grazing on ... is that fake snow?

Growing up amidst all that holiday splendor means that the bar was set pretty high for me as I approached the idea of setting my own family's backdrop for Christmas. Since my taste runs fairly well counter to my mother's in oh, call
it every way imaginable, it wasn't very hard to walk away from the general trappings of Christmas.

(Except for the fake icicles. I don't know if you've ever had the bad fortune of walking past a fake tree that's been bathed in silver strands of metallic-looking tinsel, but let me tell you this--you simply can not escape without a few hangers on clinging, Mission: Impossible-style, to your rear-end. Consider them a souvenir for later, because it will take some sort of reverse ionization process to peel them away from your body. I speak from experience. Thanks to my mom's addiction to fake icicles, I carried a fabric softener sheet with me to school every morning from December first through January sixth until I was in college. My dad taught me how to de-tinsel myself in the school bathroom so that I could hold my head high despite the fact that I most likely smelled like one of my mom's cinnamon room sprays and was wearing a Santa sweater complete with glitter and bells. Not that any of this has shaped how I feel about Christmas or anything.)

love Christmas. Actually, let me narrow that down for you: I love Advent. Advent is a season that I can connect with on a level that so often eludes me when it comes to holy days. Advent centers on waiting for a child. Not just any child, of course, but The Child. The One. The fulfillment of the promise and the prophecy. The Savior. And while I can say that I sit here today waiting on that Savior to come again, I can say even more heartily that yes, I have waited on a child. And I know what that anticipating feels like. I know the quickening in your chest. I know the pain of the days that pass. I know what it is to check and double-check a calendar. To pine. To plan and to hope.

Advent is a season that mothers understand almost too well, isn't it?

Because the focus of my family is on Advent, our decorating centers on that theme as well. Our Advent wreath is a prominent feature of our holiday display. Yes, we have a Christmas tree but no, we do not employ tinsel. We also have a row of stockings that will be growing this year. And, finally, the centerpiece: our nativity scene.

Our nativity was given to us as a wedding gift by my father-in-law's slightly eclectic older sister. As no single set met her strict criteria as to what a nativity should look like, she mixed and matched elements until she got it right in her eyes. As a result, we have a disturbingly anglo-looking Mary fluttering beatific eyelashes in the direction of a preschooler with blond hair who appears to be frolicking in a Montessori-inspired sensory experience that centers on hay. Hovering safely out of view is a supremely country-crafts angel that is made of completely different materials than the rest of the set. She is, we always say, just happy to be there.

I wouldn't trade this set for the world. It is nothing that I would ever pick out on my own, and it couldn't be farther from the slim, glass figures that my mother displayed every year as I was growing up. No, this little hodge podge scene is special. It was hand-picked for us. It's unique. And it's a conversation starter, to be sure.

But it is completely off-limits to my kids. Why? Because it is a one-of-a-kind. Irreplaceable. And not something I want to part with lightly.

This saddens me. If there's one element of my mother's idea of Christmas that I want to preserve in my own traditions it's the sense of approachability that my mother mastered over the years. You see, while I may still cringe at the thought of my mother's outlandish apple garlands circling the entire circumference of the family room, I can still bask in the knowledge of the fact that none of those things that cluttered our home during the month of December were verboten to me. If anything, my mother loved sharing her whimsy with us, encouraging us to come alongside her as she crafted her own ideal winter wonderland. That kind of memory covers a multitude of sins--maybe even the sin of playing Christmas music the day after Halloween. (Well, maybe not.)

I realized that I was falling short in this area when Jo was just a wee one. She was drawn to our nativity set like tinsel to just-pressed wool, and it was all I could do to keep it out of her reach. The thing was, though, I didn't want to keep it out of her reach. I loved the questions that she was inspired to ask. I loved that she wanted to engage in the story of Jesus' birth. But how to compromise?

The answer seemed to come, a decade ago now, in the form of a small, wooden nesting box filled with weeble-like figures representing the nativity story. Each piece was shaped like a tiny bowling pin, all the way down to a bowling pin donkey and a swaddled up Jesus shaped like (you guessed it) a bowling pin. The drawback in this set was its size. The pieces were too small to be handled safely by toddlers (I can't tell you how many times I had to ask visiting two year-old to spit Joseph out of their curious little mouths) and just the right size for losing. We managed to keep the set together but every year, it was a scavenger hunt to locate the missing wise men before the Christmas boxes went back into hibernation.

Having a toddler once again, I knew that I'd once again look forward to helping a little one begin to piece together the miraculous puzzle that is the story of our Savior being born. I was looking forward to acting out the story with Oliver, who loves figures of all sorts and is especially fond of "feeding" any and all characters. But I knew that his tendency to stick things in his mouth would probably keep me from pulling out our little weeble nativity. Who wants to go to the ER to have an X-ray to confirm that your two year-old has a shepherd in his stomach?

Thankfully, in the ten years that have passed since Jo was a toddler, the market for nativities for kids has exploded. A quick on-line search yields offerings from many of the larger toy companies, as well as a smattering of smaller products with specific markets--soft cloth nativities, build-your-own nativity, etc. Who knew?

Most exciting to those of us who are into the hands-on storytelling opportunities provided by a nativity are the nativity playsets. These are actual toys--meant to be played with. I can't tell you what I would have done for such a thing back when Jo was using her Miss Clavel doll to approximate the mother of God. The chance to act out the story, to take a small part in the action, brings children so much closer to understanding what Christmas--and Advent--are all about.

This is Oliver, trying out the Nativity Figurine Set from One 2 Believe. The set comes with 14 PVC figurines, a manger, a palm tree, a hard plastic creche and a small storybook that outlines the basics of the Biblical account of Jesus' birth. This set has become Oliver's number one plaything as of late. He likes to set up all of the figures in a line, or tote them around in a yellow plastic bucket that he seems to always have in hand. The pieces are the perfect size of playing, and seem to be durable enough to withstand some fairly constant wear and tear at the hands of a child who doesn't necessarily understand the meaning of the word "gentle" just yet.

I will say that as a Christ-follower, I am forever flummoxed by the attributes that normally crop up in nativities. Blue eyed Josephs, blond shepherds and what on earth are those wise men doing there?!?! This set stays true to the societal norms and encompasses the usual inaccuracies.

In researching for this review, I found loads of other similar sets--many at comparable or lower prices. While I am not wowed by this particular set, I will say that it seems to offer more pieces (and therefore, more options) than several of the others I saw. This one seems to be geared toward the younger set; several are clearly more life-like, while the facial features and general feel of these figures are cartoonish and playful. Oliver has a particular affection for the two sheep, while the older children are impressed that a camel is included.

Al in all, the set accomplishes exactly what I was looking for: an approachable way to allow my children to participate in the most important part of the Christmas. No tinsel needed!