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Friday, October 31, 2008

Grateful for crazy

People think we are crazy. Sometimes this bugs me. Sometimes I want to blend in a little better. Leave that whole "called out" and "set apart" thing behind.

Today, I am grateful for crazy.

I am grateful for the insane notion that would lead a seemingly "finished" family to think there was more room at the table. I am grateful for the lunacy that it obvious when sensible people wade into the wilds of foster-adoption. I am grateful for the brand of nonsense that says four boys in a row is not something to regret, avoid or be pitied.

I am grateful for crazy. Crazy has given me a family that now boasts brown eyes mingled among the greys, blues and greens. Crazy has given me a chance to experience faith in a context henceforth unknown to me. Crazy has given me hope. Crazy has given me Jo, Atticus, Logan and Oliver.

And today, crazy has given me Manolin; fifteen or so pounds of four month-old baby boy, wrapped in a blinding haze of giggles.

Thank God for crazy.

1 Cor 3:18 (NIV) Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It rang

Baby boy will be joining our family at 10 a.m. on Friday. I find this deliciously apropos, as Oliver came home on Leap Day (Feb. 29, 2008). Another gotcha', another minor holiday.

Waiting


For social worker A to call social worker B, so that placement coordinator B can process paperwork sent by placement coordinator A.

And then I can load the kiddos into the truck and drive 65 seconds down the road to get Baby Boy and his belongings. Probably not until Monday ... but maybe as early as Friday.

I'm not good at this kind of "the pot's about to boil" waiting. I believe in my heart that this is why God allowed my longest labor to be just 5 hours; He knew that was about all the patience I had in me once I knew the baby was on her way.

Ring, phone.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

There goes my heart again


I saw the back of his head through the window of a minivan once, but I didn't realize that it was one of those perfect, round little baby heads that you want your cheek to rest on forever.

How could I have known?

Is it possible that my future son has been living three blocks away since August? That I've heard him babble and wail on the other end of a phone line? That I've stood in a living room and chatted as he slept in a bedroom just above my head?

Does that really happen?

Apparently, it can. And it may have.

I spent the morning with Baby Boy. Felt him in my arms. Kissed his cheeks. Watched him transfix dh with his big brown eyes. Giggled alongside his dimply grins.

Fell in love.

The social worker called just minutes after he left. What did we think? Is this a go?

Oh, yeah. This would be a definite go.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Does it count as a call if a friend is on the other end of the line?


A fostering friend is in a bit of a bind.

The Bio Mom of a little girl she is adopting is pregnant. Really pregnant. Gonna'-have-a-baby-any-day-now pregnant. Oh, and she's addicted to meth.

Friend is at capacity. She has a two year-old who is firmly attached to her and awaiting TPR so that she can be moved to relatives out of country. She has the baby she's adopting. And she has a little boy who is headed to TPR. She and her husband were planning to adopt this little man when he becomes legally free.

At capacity means she either keeps the kiddos she has and let the sibling pass into foster care ... or she can let one of the others be placed outside of her home and take the new sibling.

They decided to keep the siblings together. And, with the sacrificial love of true parents, they have decided to let the five month-old infant that they were planning to adopt be moved. The two year-old has been through so many changes, and she has another six to nine months of wait time before she moves on to her family. Another move in between would be devastating for her.

They will miss baby boy, but they feel like this is the best choice to make in a series of decisions that no one ever wants to make.

The phone rings.

Would we like to take him?

Oh ... my.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I am not a filmmaker

... but I can play one on my Mac.

Here's my meet-me-but-not-actually-in-a-live-video entry for the HotM meme.


And, if your name happens to be Luke Holzmann, I hereby require you to lower your expectations greatly before you watch this attempt at video making.

(ETA: Apparently, I am the only one who can see the video I loaded to youtube. I suspect it was because I used the "private" setting. If anyone knows how to turn that OFF, let me know. And, if you'd like the direct link to try and watch the video, let me know via email at this blog's name @ gmail.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

You can't be a foster parent, but you can ...


You've thought and prayed and considered, but the answer is still firmly "no." You are not meant to be a foster parent. It simply isn't your calling--for a season, forever ... who knows?

But still, the notions clings to you. You should be doing something, your heart says.

If you're not parenting foster children, can you still be a blessing? Oh my goodness, yes. If you are praying for your spouse's change of heart, biding your time until a bigger house comes you way, or just plain wanting to participate in the ministry of keeping hurt kids safe, here's a list of some ways you can help.

1. Pass on your gently used items to foster parents in your area. Most foster parents maintain a stash of items for use on an as-needed basis. Your outgrown car seat, infant swing or skateboard could come in very handy for a foster family with a revolving cast of characters. Contact your local licensing office--or an agency--and ask them to pass on the list of items you have available.

2. Offer foster parents a night out. You know that amazing foster family at your church? The ones who never come to service without two infant carriers, a smile a big as Texas, and a gaggle of toddlers? I bet they'd love to have a break. You don't have to undergo a background check to take charge of a foster child for the amount of time it would take a couple to go to dinner and a movie. Offer. Follow up on it. Maybe even make it a regular thing.

3. Volunteer as a CASA or Guardian Ad Litem. You don't have to be a social worker to have a voice in a courtroom. Specially-appointed volunteers spend time with children in care and speak to the court on their behalf. This is a powerful way to be a part of "the system."

4. Participate in an foster care Angel Tree. Do you remember what it feels like to unwrap a Christmas gift and have it be exactly what you wanted? You can make that happen for a foster child. Most foster parents go out of their way to secretly ferret out the details of their foster child's wish list and make them happen. A few extras provided by folks who want to share in blessing these children makes it a lot easier for hurting children to feel like they truly matter.

5. Collect some friends and some money, and head to Dream Dinners. You can actually make a party out of blessing a family who serves in the field of fostering! Ask a local agency for the name of a family that could use a freezer full of meals. Contact your friends, set the date, head out for an evening and come home with a stack of dinners that will truly save the day on nights when a foster family bypasses a home cooked meal so mom can drive an hour each way and pick up a little one with nothing to her name but the clothes on her back.

6. Open your home for appointment-time child care. Dragging a gaggle of kiddos (or even just one who is having a really bad day) through the wringer that is a doctor or dentist's waiting room is something no parent relishes. Offer to host a movie afternoon at your place and spare a foster parent that anxiety as they start to decode what a medically fragile child might need. Keep in mind that new placements equal lots of appointments. That's the best time to offer!

7. Look into becoming a respite provider. Different counties have different rules about this; often, they are far less restrictive than full foster licensing. Check into your local program and see if you can offer a child a temporary getaway for a weekend.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's so much more than *school*


Driving my children back from their collective dental appointments this a.m., I decided to take the leisurely way home. I had been given a Target gift card recently. We were all hungry. And heck, it was as sunny a day as you could ask for in late October.

So we mingled. We meandered. We postponed our morning school plans in favor of some morning life.

It didn't feel revolutionary at the time that it was happening. No, it just felt like a momma hen out with her four little chickens, soaking in some much-needed Vitamin D and enjoying some giggles at the expense of what passes for workout clothing. The truth is, it is so easy to take for granted these little moments in time. My children are always with me. I am secure in their presence; their voices, their hugs, their poking silliness ... it is the fabric of my very being. That fact sometimes makes me forget to savor every last second that I have with them, simply because I have those seconds in abundance.

I forget, too, how precious our freedom is. The mere fact that I could spend the better part of a morning safe and secure in the knowledge that our schoolwork can be done on our time, not someone else's ... priceless, isn't it? There is no two hour load of homework that must be turned in tomorrow morning. No class that must be attended. There is only a framework, some goals and an open-ended spirit of learning.

I am so unspeakably grateful today for the gift of homeschooling. It is this small sacrifice that has opened a door to a much, much larger blessing: time with my children. Not every moment is perfect. Not every moment is meaningful. But every moment is ours.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I can't be a foster parent, because .... (part 3)

Part One and Part Two began this series on objections some folks raise to the idea of becoming foster parents.

"I have my hands full with my own kids already."
Let me say that I find this particular comment to be one of those "shades of grey" areas where truth truly is in the eye of the beholder.

If what 's holding you back from caring for a child in need is the fact that you are stretched beyond what you can bear day in and day out, then no ... fostering is not a good idea for you. In order to serve a hurting child in the way that he or she deserves, you must have a fair amount of reserves to draw upon. If you're barely keeping a grasp on what it takes to run your family then you should not sign up for more. And please, please don't relate this to the number of children under your roof. I know plenty of moms who seamlessly balance six or more kiddos. I know just as many moms of one or two (or eight) who are at their wit's end. It's not the numbers that I'm talking about here. It's the state of mind of the parents.

All that aside, I'm a little skeptical of the "I have my hands full" mode of thought. I'm pretty sure that my cynicism comes from knowing a good number of people who use that line regularly ... and knowing them well enough to know that what their hands are really full of is a decided lack of time management, a helicopter-parent mindset that require them to orchestrate every moment of their children's lives and/or a surplus in the "me-time" department that they have mislabeled as being essential to their days.

Go ahead and shoot me for coming out and saying it, but I know at least a half-dozen homeschooling moms who cause me to regularly ask myself, "What does she do all day?"

Does that mean that there are not people who are, quite literally, working at the capacity God gave them? Of course not. I just think that far too many of us equate squeezing in one more academic subject, running to yet another soccer practice and protecting our television time with having full hands. That's not being stretched too far. That's buying into the world's idea of what it is to be a successful parent. Count me among those who
struggle with maintaining God's perspective on this issue.




"My husband/wife doesn't agree that it's right for us."

Do you remember the robot from Lost in Space? He had this handy line that was designed to throw a red flag in the face of his little human charge.
Let me steal that for a moment and adapt it for our purposes:
Danger, Potential Foster Parent!

If your spouse is not on board, do not pass go. Do not collect your foster license. And above all else, do not begin taking kids into your home.

Foster parenting is a joint journey. Even if your spouse is away at work all day or all night, you are a team. You may be the one who changes the majority of the diapers, who deals with the tantrums and who entertains social workers on your natty couch ... but without the support of your significant other, you will fail miserably.

"My house is too small."

Again, this can be a showstopper. Amy/Birthblessed posted that she has a three bedroom house and her own bio children alone put her over her county's regulations for parent/child ratios. Is that an issue? You betcha. You absolutely must qualify to be a foster parent--and your home must, as well. (I'll post later with some ideas for those who have felt a call to fostering but can not fulfill that call at this time sue to circumstances.)

But what if--unlike Amy--you haven't called to get information to find out exactly what those qualifications are?

Well, do it!

You may be assuming that your home is too small. You don't make enough money. You can't foster because you work full-time. Homeschooling excludes you from fostering. Don't assume! Check it out!

A final note on "my house is too small" ... is it, really? Take a good look around at what you've been blessed with. The old couch you wish you could heave to the curb. The living room that feels like you're on top of one another. The kitchen where you bump your husband's elbow every morning as you're pouring coffee. Now ... view it through God's eyes. See it for what a gift it is. Ask yourself: How much space does a child need? How much space do you really "need"? Measure that "need" against the miracle of safety, love and stability that you could offer a child. Which blessing is greater?

Next up ... thoughts on some practical ways you can help even if fostering isn't right for you.

Monday, October 20, 2008

One super-cool (FREE!) resource for homeschoolers of all ages ... coming right up!

I LOVE free resources. Can I hear a round of applause for the internet as it relates to homeschooling, please?

No matter what age your kids are, check this out. I stumbled upon this site while researching an art unit study and I. am. smitten. Well worth the click.

The company (EduWeb) seems to be in the business of developing software with a largely nonprofit slant. Nonprofit often equals "really cool learning resource" in my book. Here's a sampling of the goodies I bookmarked for our homeschool:

Into the Book Reading comprehension in a game format. This proved to be an irresistible draw for Logan.

Amazing Reef Allows you to develop your own plot line and make a movie.

WolfQuest O.k., you have to download this one, which I hate doing. BUT ... the graphics are unbelievable. And how else are you going to teach your children what it's like to be a wolf?

The Renaissance Connection An entire site full of interactive resources that captured the attention of all four of my children.

There's a ton more on the main site. Check it out!

Friday, October 17, 2008

You say it's your birthday


Actually, it's tomorrow. But thanks for noticing!

I'll be 34, in case you're wondering.


Cake for everyone!

I can't be a foster parent, because .... (part 2)


This post picks up where I left off yesterday. Please note that with this series, I am not implying that EVERYONE is called to foster. However, I do believe that everyone is called to fulfill James 1:27, which reads:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

I'll discuss this in another part of the series.



"I don't trust the system."

You know, I don't trust the system, either. It's completely irrational to believe that an entity comprised of well-meaning but over-burdened bureaucrats charged with the safety and healthy of upwards of twenty families at a time can make sound choices regarding the welfare of children they see face-to-face for less than an two hours a month. The nuances of a case become clear when you wipe a runny nose, feel a the hot glare from a time-out chair or sing "Old MacDonald" for the fiftieth time. These are things that don't come across on forms. Reading the impersonal file notation "Mother did not show for visitation" doesn't come anywhere close to riding home with a disappointed six year-old who is raging at her foster mother because her "real" mother wasn't able to collect the special drawing she's made just for her.

A system is not a substitute for a loving, thinking, feeling adult. The
system is emotionless. It is also soulless.

But not trusting the system is a poor reason to reject the notion of foster care outright. When driving on a highway, do you trust that the oncoming traffic will not cross into your lane? Call me paranoid, but I don't. I regularly drive one of the nation's most dangerous highways. Knowing that this road is especially prone to head-on collisions has changed the way I drive. It has also factored heavily into my choice of vehicle (Suburban) and the kind of car seats my children ride in. Rather than giving up traveling this road, I have done my best to be prepared in advance for whatever might be coming up ahead.

Jesus admonished his followers to be as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves. I take this to heart when dealing with DSHS. I've taken to calling my method the Two E's: Educate and Endear. On one hand, I do whatever I can to get facts. To gather resources. The make contacts. On the other hand, I make sure that I am every social worker's favorite case. I am not above serving a social worker hot chocolate or sending an e-card to acknowledge a birthday.

You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. In my experience, the system is just a big bear. It
likes honey.

"Our county is considered the worst for ..."

I have had so many people tell me this in one form or another that I am now convinced that we ought to all throw our hands in the air and move to Canada.

Seriously, guys. How many counties can really be the
worst for giving kids back to bad homes? For being uncooperative? For not providing support? For failing to notify foster parents of pre-existing conditions? For lying to foster parents outright? For taking kids into care that never should have been removed?

Puh-leeze. Instead of taking your best friend's neighbor's sister-in-law's cousin's word for it that YOUR area is just not worth working with, check into it yourself. If you find that it really is that bad, then consider yourself charged with the task of bringing attention to a system in need of serious revamping. If you find out that it really isn't the snake's nest you were told it was, find out how you can help.


"I couldn't return children to circumstances that might not be safe."

When every minute of my day revolved around Jo and Jo alone, I used to get this strange, creeping tightness in my chest every time that she wandered a little too far from my side at our local park. It wasn't that the area we lived in was known for an abundance of child predators. No ... it was a line of tall, thick trees that circled the edge of the park that made me nervous. See, the trees were just a few yards beyond the distance I was sure that I could quickly cover if danger came too near to my baby. And the
trees! Well, they were tall enough to create heavy shadows in that corner of the park. The undergrowth was dense and could have easily concealed ... well, anything. Or anyone. I hated that area of the park. I warned Jo about it so often and so thoroughly that, after a few months time, she began repeating my warning to every child she saw wandering towards the trees.

"Stop! Your mommy can't see you there! If she can't see you, she can't keep you safe!"

One day, a mother with four little ones under the age of six or so came to the park. I watched in awe as the mother spread out a blanket, plopped her baby into the center of it, told the older two children to go and play, and then marched her toddler over to the swings. You know right where those older two children went, don't you?

The trees.

They didn't just flit in and out of the shadows. They hiked into the brush and found massive sticks for poking. They darted in and out of places where snakes and cougars and molesters could easily hide. Their mother blissfully kept an eye on it all as she pushed the toddler in the baby swing.

I was horrified.

I ended up seeing the mother again at the same park about a year later. By this time, we'd been blessed with Atticus, and she had added another wee one to her own brood. Over a shared necessity for baby wipes, we ended up talking. She must have been very amused by my frantic visual searches whenever Jo leapt out of view. Finally, I asked her how it came to pass that she was so relaxed when so many dangers lurked in every corner, waiting to devour her beautiful offspring the minute she was caught unawares. How could she knowingly let them wander into places that she was powerless to protect them at their first cry for help?

I will never forget her response.

"Honey, you don't know Jesus, do you?"

What about you? Do you know Jesus? And if so, do you take Him at His word? Do you believe that nothing comes to pass without His approval? Do you believe that He truly holds all the power in the universe? Do you trust Him?

If so, then what are you afraid of?


To be continued ...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I can't be a foster parent, because .... (part 1)


I am continually amazed by the number of people who rank foster care licenses right up there with a full papal designation of sainthood. This past weekend alone, I spoke with four different women who couldn't tell me often enough how "wonderful" it was that we "are doing that." How we "were blessing so many children." How foster care is "such a wonderful way to serve." How "it's so needed." How "more Christians ought to get into the system like that."

I have learned to wait patiently when people are singing my praises. Inevitably, the tide turns and people begin to feel the need to explain to me why they aren't doing the very thing that they seem to value so highly.

The most common threads revolve around the a handful of standard themes that I have mulled over for quite some time. The thing is, most of them are based on things I actually held true in my own heart prior to the Lord convicting me to jump from the boat labeled "Mary Grace's Ideal Family" into the one labeled "God's Vision for Mary Grace's Family." Care to ride over the falls with me?

"I can't be a foster parent, because I could never give up a child that I loved."

This one always gets me, because it makes the assumption that a) your children belong to you b) your children will never be taken from you in an untimely fashion and c) love that does not come with a lifetime guarantee is somehow not worth the emotional investment.

When you begin to process--and I mean really process, not just flirt with the notion-- that "your" children do not belong to you, this argument falls apart. I hate to be the one to give you heart palpitations this afternoon, but the fact of the matter is this: YOU WILL GIVE UP THE CHILDREN THAT YOU LOVE. It's cold, and it's hard and it's awful ... but it is life as God designed it. Those adorable babies that you tuck in at night are merely on loan to you. The difference between God's idea of loaning and the state's idea of loaning is that God doesn't give you a timetable for how long you have to look forward to those little mouths at the table. If you are truly blessed, it will be until the day you see them walk down the aisle. Or until you die. You will never deal with a teenager who rebels and walks away from you for good. You will never be one of the crushed souls who visits at grave to mark birthdays and holidays. You will never have a child who speaks to you only on the rarest of occasions.

You may get this. God willing, you will be so blessed.

But you may not be counted among these parents. You may be one of the ones who has loved and who seems to have lost.

And if you knew right now, this instant, that the little one who is laughing down the hall at this instant was going to completely walk out of your life in fifteen years, would you love him any less today? Would you refuse to give him food and shelter and safety and your heart ... all because you had the knowledge that this thing you call a family would eventually be shed from his memory like a skin that no longer fits?

Love is worth it. Invest in the moment. Expect no guarantees.

"Having children come and go would be too hard on my kids."

Again, some assumptions are being made here. Your family--even your extended family--is a fixed object in the sky. No one in your neighborhood will ever move. You will never change churches. Cross-country relocations are out of the picture. Grandparents will never die. And the group of friends your children have now will stay the same forever and always.

I don't know anyone who can say with certainty that this is the way their children will be raised. It's completely unreasonable, isn't it?

The deeper fear here is that biological children will become attached to foster siblings. If reunification is the ultimate goal in fostering (and nearly every case starts this way), then you have to be prepared for a temporary relationship. Hence the fear: I don't want my children to be hurt.

This is a natural, healthy notion and a sign of good parenting, in my book. But the truth is that you can not protect your children from the sting of loss. In fact, I'm going to argue that you shouldn't. There is something far greater to be gained--especially for children--in learning to live with a daily mindset AND an eternal perspective. On a personal note, I have seen such growth in Jo since the beginning of our fostering journey. The girl has learned at just 11 years old to sacrifice and to love even when it hurts. I didn't learn those skills until motherhood was upon me. Which one of us, I ask you, would have been the better candidate for following God's call upon our lives?


"I have to think of my own children first. I can't expose them to the baggage that foster kids bring along with them."

Sure, the statistics for physical, emotional, verbal and even s@xual abuse in children is frighteningly high, but of course, your community is completely immune. The children sitting in class with your little ones all day sprang right out of Leave It To Beaver homes. Ditto for Sunday School. Scouts. The park. AWANA. The library. Not a single bruised soul anywhere in your zip code, actually. Aren't you lucky?

Odds are that right now, less than five miles from your house, a child is being abused. Tomorrow--maybe on your way out to the grocery store or some other random errand--you will drive by the scene of this crime that no one knows about. And you will think nothing of it.

That's how close abuse and neglect are to you at this minute.

It is not something confined to a single geographical area. An income level. A class group. Abuse and neglect are everywhere.

Which means that your children have already rubbed elbows with the outcome, no matter how sheltering you are. Comforting, huh? Maybe it's the boy in Sunday School who uses a constant stream of foul language to get his points across. The girl your daughter sits by on the bus who knows a little too much about reproduction. The preschooler who hits and spits and screams and kicks at the park.

I don't want to bring it into my house, though, MG! you say. And I will tell you that honestly, this is one of the stickiest points of providing in-home care for children who aren't your own. Backgrounds of horrendous abuse generally do not make for well-adjusted children, let alone pleasant playmates. Even your standard neglect develops character traits that are not, shall we say, acceptable in most homes where respect, calm voices and general kindness rule the day.

Many, many people do not realize it, but foster parents do have a say in what placements they accept. While a social worker may try to convince a foster parent to take a particular child that they have reservations about, it's the foster parent who has the final say so. This means that unless you o.k. a known arsonist being placed with you, it won't happen. (Unless info is being concealed ... which we'll get to later!)

Here's the balance we have struck:

First, we were very selective in the area of placement agency. Second, we educated ourselves. Specific kinds of abuse produce a specific spectrum of behaviors. By honestly accessing our capabilities as parents, dh and I were able to then set up some guidelines for our agency. It is for this reason that I do not get calls about children who have suspected s@xual abuse in their backgrounds. In addition to the fact that I think some of the potential behaviors could possibly serve as personal triggers for me, I know that I can't provide the level of one-on-one supervision that a child prone to acting out s@xually needs. I do feel o.k. handling a drug-exposed infant, though. So I am on the call list for fussy, underweight babies who might keep my other children --and me--awake at night. Other foster parents may not feel comfortable with inconsolable infants. See how the gaps are filled in just this way?

When you are a foster parent, YOU decide what kind of baggage comes into your house. Just remember ... it's right outside your door, anyhow.

To be continued ....



Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Haiku

Since we're studying Japan, I decided to introduce Jo, Atticus and Logan to the art of the haiku. The results were so indicative of their individual personalities that I just had to share them:



Rabbits
by Jo
Silent and peaceful
warm fur dappled in the sun
slowly hops away


My Name
by Atticus
"Atticus Blackone?"
said my friend, whose name is Bob
"What does that mean, huh?"




Soccer
by Logan
Scoring goals is fun,
Stealing the ball is better,
playing with my friends.

Custom-made


One of the most common questions I am asked regarding homeschooling with Sonlight is how I manage to cram more resources into an already jam-packed schedule. Those familiar with--but not using-- Sonlight tend to see it as a juggernaut of a program that only the bravest homeschooling souls sign on to tackle. While I (obviously) disagree, there is something to that myth. Sonlight is a full program. The number of books that comprise a single early-elementary Core is far greater than the number I was required to read in my senior AP English class. The depth and scope is frankly, often more than a young child needs ... but rarely ever more than he wants. Sonlight is a time investment that makes textbook snippets pale by comparison. And, did I mention that you still have to add the Three R's if you're not using one of the Newcomer options?

So how do I tuck in even more than what my Instructor's Guide (IG) has scheduled?

I view the IG as a spine. That's right; the same way that many people look at their trusty copies of The Well-Trained Mind as a resource on how to piece together an educational roadmap, I see my SL IG as a starting spot. I look it over, decide how the recommendations will fit our family and begin to formulate a plan of action.

I am not super homeschooling mom. I don't even play one on t.v. But I am the mother of some fairly eclectic and curious children who have come to expect that the answers to their questions are out there. Sonlight is, often, the springboard for forming the initial questions. Part of my job as their mother/teacher is to give them the tools to find the answers.

This year, we are studying Core 5. We are on week 8, and have finally hit one of the destinations that we've been looking forward to: Japan! But guess what? The entire rich history and culture of Japan has, by necessity, been squashed into a mere week and a half. A week and a half? Seven school days to digest the shogun? The samurai? Shintoism? Tanka? Kabuki?

This is where my inner supplementary engine kicks into high gear. Sonlight is a spine. A starting place. When we are transfixed, we take what they have given us as an appetizer and delve headfirst into the main course as provided by the internet, our library and whatever else we can get our hands (and minds) on. See this post to find out what kind of things I add in to our SL schedule.

The same mindset works in the opposite direction, of course. When you begin to see a Sonlight schedule as a tool, you can feel guilt-free in walking away from the topics that just don't grab you. For instance, we decided to abbreviate our stay in the Antarctica earlier on in this Core. My children were happy to locate the area on the map and to look up some of the scientific work going on there (that was my own addition to the program,). But nothing else seemed to be in need of further digging. We moved on.

A lot of my fellow homeschoolers have asked why I bother with Sonlight at all if I end up doing so much modification. Many of these families build their own literature-based unit studies around well-known history resources using our (astounding) local library systems. Several have upbraided me for shelling out so much money for a single year's curriculum when they have managed to homeschool their brood for under $100. I have to say that I have yet to regret a single penny I've spent on Sonlight Cores. The fact that I can't seem to box up the books we aren't using speaks for itself; while we may be studying Japan right now, Logan is literally lounging on my bed as I type with Core 2's Time Traveler book propped just below his chin. It's a horrible reading posture, yes ... but it's also a resource that was at his fingertips and beckoned to him at rest time instead of warming shelf of a library this afternoon.

I'm probably not the typical SL customer. I seem to add more in the way of additional books than the average forum user. I don't find the reading overwhelming, nor do I find it overly difficult to plan a craft or activity from time to time. What I have found is that we're quite happy with our own, personalized, self-guided tour through education. It's like having our cake and eating it, too!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Apples

We've been making applesauce all weekend. This is one of my favorite fall traditions--one I carried with me from my early years of budding domesticity back in NC and GA. It has taken on a whole new shine in the NW, what with it actually looking like autumn outside rather than just smelling like it in my kitchen.

Jo was just a wee thing when I first started buying apples by the box. I would painstakingly core and peel and slice while she took turns making off with apple chunks, watching me work and cavorting in discarded peels. Oh, she was an absolute cherub back then. Cheeks stuffed full-to-bursting with apples. Big blue eyes peeking out under her favorite floppy hat. The constant barrage of requests to "Help yooooooo, Momma!" I remember it as a warm and fuzzy time--one of those seasons that comes back to you bathed in the glow of soft-focus lighting and set to the strains of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

As my family grew, the tradition changed. Sure, there was always applesauce. But a whole box of apples? The options were endless! Apple printing. Apple dolls. Dried apple rings. And, of course, more apple themed unit studies and worksheets than you can shake a depleted printer cartridge at. The entire process of making yummy applesauce was little more than garnish on the main dish of our apple-themed fun.

I am not sure when we left the crafty appling time behind. It wasn't conscious, I know that much. I'd still love to sneak in a few hours here and there to give Logan more time to explore the finer points of being six years old. To bask in in-depth studies that require field trips. Baking projects. Crafts that will litter my kitchen counters. But it never seems to happen--and it's not just apples. It's all of that fun, little guy stuff that requires glue, pipe cleaners and loads of time for set-up and clean-up.

Realizing that I've stepped out of the world of preschool fun can sadden me. Even knowing that I will doubtless find myself back on the 3 year-old Sunday School rotation before I know it does little to quell the mourning that washes over me from time to time as I ponder a life without Jo, Atticus and Logan poking black threads of licorice into the domes of apples that have been sliced to look like ladybugs. I am the mother of some older kids, I have to remind myself. I have to grow with them.

And grow we have.

This year's applesauce season has been remarkably different than those that have gone before. First and foremost is the fact that I have done very, very little of the actual making of the applesauce. My three older children have cheerily--chirpily, even--taken over the manning of our handy apple corer/peeler/slicer. Armed with the mental capacity to plan and execute such a task in logical increments, they have created an assembly line that begins at with a brisk scrub in the sink, advances with the peeler/slicer and ends with a quick chop that lands the apple in the crock pot. They've become so efficient that our crock pot has been grinding out three batches of sauce per day. I've taken over the canning end of the deal but have left the rest to the newly-minted experts.

Watching them work is nothing like those early days of sitting on a ladder-backed chair in my rented kitchen, holding a big metal bowl full of apples between my knees and watching Jo twirl fruit rings on her chubby fingers. This is something different. A silly, ribbing teamwork of siblings who know each other's habits and talents in greater detail than I ever hoped for. Seeing the stair-stepped heads of my older children at the counter, watching their shoulders bump and jostle, hearing them laugh ... my heart could burst. When this memory comes back to me, I hope it comes with a pink blush for lighting and "These Are Days" for a soundtrack. I hope it comes often.

No one has asked about apple blossoms, bees or the star inside the apple this year. No one has counted the number of twists to pop the stem. No one has asked to dry seeds. But, between giggles and bad jokes, they have asked about apple butter. What is it? What does it taste like? Can we make some?

Perhaps there is still something about my favorite fall fruit I can teach them ... like my Mamaw's
indescribably good recipe for apple butter, which I've never had cause to pass on. I wonder what memories that could inspire?




Today's the day!

Nominations begin today for the Homeschool Blog Awards. I love being able to steer people towards some of my favorite blogs, so I look forward to this every year. Here's a peek at some of the blogs that made it onto my ballot.

Best Nitty-Gritty blog: working title Amy posts about the very real roller coaster of of parenting a large family. Some of her kids are in school, some are homeschooled ... and all are unique individuals that she celebrates even when they are driving her batty. If you're looking for a real blogger with real opinions, she's it.

Best variety: choice central Angi and her brood have wonderful adventures that keep you wondering what they'll be up to next. Better than a soap opera ... but with people you'd actually like to hang out with!

Best politics: thoughtful motherhood while the focus of this blog is actually on the "motherhood" part of the title, there's more than a fair bit of "thoughtful," too. I don't agree with every conclusion that the writer comes to, but I certainly admire her tenacity and dedication to prying truth out of the shadows and bringing it to light.

What blogs are YOU nominating this year?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Flurry


Here's the thing with private agency-based foster care: it's feast or famine. With state foster care, though, it's always feast. The folks I know who foster through the state are inundated with calls each and every week--whether they are at capacity or not. They are begged and bribed to take "just one more" even when they are above capacity. A friend in my neighborhood literally had four children under the age of 1 year for a while, PLUS her own three bios. She was licensed for TWO. Finally, the state upped her license to three and removed one of the children. For the first time in her 20 months as a foster parent, she is within the constraints of her license.

But the calls keep coming. On Friday, she turned down two placements.

Sometimes I am tempted to envy the foster parents who get calls at all hours. In some wistful moments, the steady stream of possibilities is better than the routine of daily life punctuated with the special ring I've assigned to our social worker on my cell. A voice on the other end of the line means something new. A change of pace. A little one to keep safe. And maybe, just maybe, a baby to hold for a few days.

I've heard the special ring a lot in the last couple of days. It seems like there's been a bevvy of children who fit our "parameters" (read: potentially adoptable girls under 5 years old with no s@xualized behaviors and little if any visitation) in need of a home for a few days, months or forever.

There was the three month old who was abandoned.

The seven week old who was failure to thrive.

And now a five year-old whose adoptive family has decided to divorce.

All in two days worth of phone calls, people. Two day's worth of pre-screened, "this is what we have that fits your profile" phone calls. These calls don't even represent the myriad children who are over age 6. Kids who are a ways from termination. Who have multiple visits per week. Who are in emergency placement. Who never get put into the database that private agencies pull from. Who are ((shudder)) boys. (Please note: while we would happily take another little boy, our license says that we can only have three boys in our "boy bedroom." So, girls it is!)

The fields are ripe with children in need, but the workers are few. Please consider this my plea for action.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Better than a thrift store


My friend Benny secretly thinks the only reason that I serve on our local Friends of the Library Board is because I get first crack at the offerings in the Used Book Sale.

She's wrong of course. I'm just your average civic-minded citizen who cast around for a while to find the right place to serve. The library is a natural fit for a writer--plenty of books! I like being around grandmotherly older women who impart their wisdom freely, and since I'm the only member younger than 64, the Friends of the Library offers that in spades. I love being involved in activities that support literacy in children. My own kiddos are allowed at meetings and well-behaved children are welcome at all related events. The activities that the group supports boost our community as a whole. See? It's the perfect community service for me!

Not that the Used Books Sale perk hurts at all. :-)

Today, three of the kiddos and I headed down to help with the set-up for the annual sale. This is our biggest event of the year. An entire room is filled with tables that are literally covered with books of all shapes and sizes. It takes a lot of work to get to that point, though. When we arrived, the scene was one of general box-driven chaos and tables at all angles. Oliver enjoyed some quality ergo time while Logan and Jo were put to work unloading boxes. I flitted from task to task: lining books up on tables, sorting the Danielle Steeles from the the John Grishams, putting prices on the bigger items that will bring in more than $1 a hardback. As we worked, the kids and I set aside our own potential purchases.

We worked for about two hours. Oliver had tired of his confinement long before the work was finished, so we had to say goodbye to our co-workers. In addition to the feeling of satisfaction we had at leaving the place with some semblance of order coming together, we also had the thrill of a whole box full of our own finds.

The grand total? $5.50. The best of the best of the best? Take a look ...



We liked the first one in SL Core K, so I thought the second was worth having on hand.
Retail: $14.99 My price: 50¢



Highly recommended by Karla, I couldn't pass this one up. It's a selection in one of the SL preschool programs.

Retail $12.95 My price: 50¢


My children like to read these books for fun. A great investment!
Retail: $16.95 My price: 50¢



When I saw the accompanying activity book, I almost did a backflip right there in the aisle. PERFECT CONDITION. What a blessing!
Retail: $34.95 My price: 50¢

So that was my reward for community service today. Almost $80 in materials I'll use for our homeschool for just $2. See? It pays to be involved! Not that that's the only reason you should serve ... :-)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Seasons

I've been thinking a lot about the changing of seasons lately. It's not just the yellow leaves that catch Oliver's attention as we sit on the soccer sidelines that have me enraptured. It's the changes I see in my own family.

Each and every one of my children seem so palpably on the brink of something new and exciting right now. As
the one who doles out the math assignments and reads over the essays, I am well aware of their burgeoning intellectual abilities. I have grinned inwardly as Logan has chosen to pick up a book a good two levels beyond what I require of him and tried to pry its secrets from the pages, syllable by syllable. I have seen Atticus take handwriting seriously for the first time, actually employing his eraser for something other than a holding spot for a fidget. I have listened to Jo describe a project in such detail that I have felt for the very first time in my heart that I have very little left to teach her in the way of book learning. And, on the toddler front, I have disbursed treats to Oliver each morning to celebrate his potty successes.

The seasons are changing, yet again.


Just when I get truly comfortable with basal readers, cloth diapers, multiplication tables, sloppy handwriting ... my kids go and change on me. They stretch me
in new areas. They tax me and they thrill me and they need me in ways I thought I had left behind or have not yet discovered.

It is, of course, as it should be. There should be growth. Change. Development. To do otherwise would be to stagnate in the comfort zone labelled failure to thrive.

It is a good thing, this motherhood adventure. It is a life rich in adjectives like "loved," "quiet," "fast," "easy," "first," "long," "warm," "disastrous," "blushing," "weary," "strong," and "messy." It's an organism unto itself, I'm learning. Motherhood grows and changes. It sheds its foliage just when you feel you are full to bursting with the beauty of it all. And what you're left with is anticipation of the seasons yet to come.


Review: In search of ...


I don't know how people homeschool without the internet. I really don't. In-hand resources are the backbone of our school experience but the online stuff is what rounds out even the most mundane topic.

Case in point: on Tuesday, we wound up what was supposed to be a week-long look at the life of a silkworm. Sonlight' s Core 5 includes what seems at first blush to be a very random book on the little creatures. (Turns out that it's not random at all, but I'll save that for another post.) At any rate, a single paperback book in no way satisfied the curiosity of my three little learners. Oh, no. This book was enough to whet their appetite, but in reality, it was the source of more questions than answers.

What does a silkworm farm look like?
How large are most silkworm farms?
Do they still use the same techniques that they started with, or has technology come into play?
Do silkworms ever come in other colors?
What other parts of the world were silkworms in originally?

And on and on.

Being a homeschooling mother with a fairly speedy internet connection, I turned to google and began the process of finding age-appropriate resources that answered the questions being lobbed at me by the peanut gallery. I also found some vacation photos that a tourist with a great eye for light took while touring a silkworm farm. Within an hour, I had a whole slew of new info on silkworms to mull over with the crew.

But here's the rub that I find each and every time that I begin the process of researching on behalf of my children: you just never know what you're going to pull up once you start asking the internet for answers.

I'm not talking about the difference between "amer*cangirl.com" and "amer*cangirlS.c*m" here. (PLEASE don't hit the last one!!!) I'm talking about the subtle nuance that separates a great grown-up resource from one that is actually useful for a child. Not to mention the zillion duplicate-type hits that your average search turns up.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who struggles with some frustration in this area. The last time that I was at a gathering of homeschool moms, several of us compared notes on how much better we'd become at zeroing in on what we were looking for. More direct search terms, knowledge of specific sites and a set of go-to links were our saving grace in crunch times, we all said. One newbie mom, in particular, looked on in awe. What she wanted, she said, was a spot where someone had already done all the work.

Little did she know that someone already had.

HelpMe2Teach.com is an online search engine that specializes in k-12 curricula resources. Printables, online games and informational websites are their specialty. This subscription-based site functions as a one-step-up-from google type of engine; all of the sites that it returns are ranked according to age-appropriateness (PreK-2nd grade, for instance) and are accompanied by a brief description of the site that is visible
before you click on it. Over 2,000 sites are currently in the system, with more being added.

HelpMe2Teach.com lists resources in every subject area. This is not a Christian company and does not link to sites with express religious information.

Clearly, a warehouse of 2,000 sites is by no means exhaustive. A quick search for the term "silkworm" yielded no results; a broader search for "ancient China" returned 12 sites. Of those, approximately 7 were websites that I would consider "high interest" in terms of the search criteria I had provided. The other three were only vaguely linked to the topic. All seemed to be ranked correctly in terms of age appropriate content and all were described accurately in the blurb on the search page.

In time, I think that this resource will become a valuable part of many homeschools. For now, it seems to be a great source of links for those who aren't confident in their ability to wade through the limitless supply of information that a general search engine spits back on any given topic. Newbie homeschoolers will be comforted, too, by the at-your-fingertips grade levels and the fact that this site could easily be used to whip up a single-topic unit study in just a few hours time.

For the more experienced homeschooler, I suggest sticking to the tried and true search and sort method. While a subscription to HealMe2Teach.com might give you a few dozen more bookmarks to your repertoire, it isn't likely to be worth the $29.95/year price tag just yet.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Churn


I knew that it would happen someday. I simply wasn't expecting it so soon.

An envelope--nondescript, labeled only with my name and address and the return address of our state's child welfare folks--was scrunched into a corner of my mailbox. I almost didn't open it right away; as it turns out, DCFS sends out more spam than classmates.com ... only this kind comes in paper form. I have become so accustomed to receiving mail from them that it barely registers on my radar. Since it was a slow mail day, I tore into the envelope and peered inside.

A sheaf of papers, clasped together by a single, straining paperclip stared back at me.

CONFIDENTIAL HEALTH INFORMATION

What is this? I mused, pulling the papers free.

They were exactly what they claimed to be. Oliver's health background: starting at birth, and continuing well past his placement here with us.

There was a rushing in my ears and a slightly acrid taste in my mouth.
Put them back! my heart screamed. This was a surprise I wasn't prepared for. In truth, I see now that I really didn't want to know the particulars of what and when and how. Better to dream about the boogeyman under the bed than to grab the flashlight with sweaty palms and lean down, down, down to where he just might be.

I read the papers, heart in my throat and and a hot flush on my chest that made me open the window on a 55 degree day. It was what I had known. What I had feared. What I never wanted to see in irrefutable black and white.

This is the kind of hurt that makes your husband slam kitchen cabinets so hard that the glasses rattle. The kind of hurt that makes you vomit just from the sheer horror that your body must ---somehow--physically reject. The kind of hurt that makes you compose long, drawn out diatribes to judges in your mind. The kind of hurt that makes you hold a once-broken little body and never, ever want to let go.

I've been to see a doctor now, and the mysteries of the records have been unfurled before me like so many bad dreams played out in made-for-tv movies. Medical alphabet soup, I have discovered hides some very ugly truths. And perhaps that's how it ought to be; what kind of a person could stand the heartache of writing about the horrific specifics of abuse in real words?

I thought that nothing could make Oliver more precious to me. I thought that nothing could make him seem like more of a gift.

I was wrong.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My father is not Hank Williams, Jr.


I was sitting at my computer, typing up shopping list, when it occurred to me that I could pull up iTunes and stream a radio station. A few clicks here and there, and the window was open.

So many options. What to choose?

Christian music, to set the tone of my afternoon?
An 80s station, to remind me of the days when I thought Simon LeBon was hot?
A little early 90s alternative, to bring me back to the heady days of senior high?
Classical, always a safe bet?

Nothing felt right.

I scrolled down.

Country. Hmmmm ....

List the options. Wow. A lot of options.

Does that say "classic country of the 70s"?

Why, yes. It does.

And it washes over me.

Stretching across the back bench seat of our Chrysler with a coloring book and sweet-smelling crayons. The windows wide open. My father driving with a beer can between his knees and a Pall Mall in his left hand. My mom fishing through a cooler full of baloney sandwiches. The changing scenery of I-75 South.

And on the radio, it was Outlaw Country. Kris Kristofferson. Johnny Cash. Waylon Jennings. Willie Nelson. Hank Williams, Jr. The soundtrack of every trip I ever took as a child was chock full of beer, booze and honky tonk women.

So I spent an hour listening to songs that gave me a glimpse back at my childhood. Did my father really sing "Family Tradition" at full volume as he flicked his smoke out into the thick, grey air of Dayton, Ohio? Yes. I remember it now. He did. Did "Ladies Love Outlaws" really make my momma squeal and slap the dashboard? Oh, yeah.

Funny how music brings that all back, isn't it?

After having confessed all of this, I'm absolutely sure that 90% of my readers will have a whole new impression of me.

Let me go ahead and keep shattering your image. This place here?



Yeah ... it's an hour and half from where my father's side of the family lives.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Disclaimer

My blog covers a multitude of topics. You may have noticed this, what with me posting about Oliver's adoption status one day sharing some of my writing the next. You know how some people label themselves eclectic homeschoolers? Well, I'm an eclectic blogger.

A more organized person would probably have two or three blogs going if they found themselves writing about homeschooling, adoption, church, writing and family life. Not only am I not that organized, I'm not that compartmentalized. Life is one big crock pot meal as far as I'm concerned. Cook the potatoes in with the chicken, and I'll just call it flavor.

That said, I have felt that it was important to make a full disclosure regarding the reviews you see here at Books and Bairns from time to time. You will note in the header up top that I describe myself as a writer. My passion is short fiction. I also write far too many reflective essays that focus on life and family. Neither of these have very large markets, so I learned early on to take up reviews on the side. In my many years of freelancing, I've written reviews for things as diverse as Jamaican holidays and children's videos. Nowadays, I find myself primarily reviewing homeschool curricula, children's fiction and the occasional smattering of fiction for adults. Those are the reviews I post here on my blog.

All items reviewed on this blog have been used/read by me. Homeschooling products are used with my own family. Some things reviewed in this blog come from my own shelves and were paid for out of my own pocket; some items have been given to me at no cost with the understanding that I will publicly review them. In either case, the end result is the same: f I think that a resource will be especially helpful, I will gladly pass on my find to others. If I find that something has very little value despite its appealing marketing, I'll give you my two cents worth on that as well.

When I approach a product for review, I do so with the understanding that I will be absolutely honest in my presentation of the strengths and weaknesses of said product. I do not write rosy reviews simply because I have been given a free sample of a book. To do so would be dishonest to you, as a reader. It would also deny the publisher of the book I'm reviewing the opportunity to improve their product. I do not submit my reviews in advance of publication for author/publisher approval. I do not post reviews that have been edited by third parties.

All published reviews on this blog have "Review:" in their title. I do this so that you can choose to skip that day's post if a review isn't what you had in mind.

If you ever have a question regarding a review that you've seen here, please feel free to email me. If you'd like for me to review a particular item, you can email me regarding that suggestion as well. And finally, if you are a publisher/author/homeschool entrepreneur that can agree to the terms listed above and would still like me to review your product, contact me. I can be reached at this blog's name (no spaces) @ gmail . c o m

Thanks for tuning in to my PSA.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Support


Logan: Why didn't you sing to me last night?

Me: I was at my homeschool meeting, remember?

Logan: Oh, yeah. I forgot.

Me: Well, I kissed you goodbye. You were in the tub when I left, remember?

Logan: I remember now.

(pause)

Logan: Why do you go to those meetings again?

Me: Well, so that I can talk to other homeschooling moms and share ideas and just be around people who are doing the same thing as me.

Logan: It sounds a lot like soccer.

Me: Wellllll, kind of. I guess.

Logan: Except for the brownies, of course. No one bakes brownies to bring to soccer practice.
And therein lies the rub, eh, son?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Light at the end of the tunnel!


Adoption

staffing

meeting

is

scheduled

which means termination is (bythewillofGOD) imminent.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Think fast


You've got five buttered slices of bread on the hot griddle, awaiting their dose of American Cheese.

A peek at call waiting reveals that your husband--who you had a bit of a tiff with as he left this morning-- is on the other end of the line.

Your six year-old is practicing his soccer skills against the front door. Loudly. Again.

Your eight year-old is asking you to help him understand a Bible verse that, he says, has been on his heart.

Your 22 month-old is running around with a bare bum and has just sucked down an entire sippy cup of watered-down juice.

Think on your feet, soldier. Triage this situation and let me know which issue ranks highest in your book.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

All-over-the-home schooling


One upon a time, we did school at our dining room table. Books were pulled from a tidy shelf and utilized, then squirreled away. Craft projects littered the end of said table. Flecks of glitter took up residence on the backs of the chairs.

So we built a schoolroom. Suddenly, we had a home for the vast library of books, manipulatives, craft items, and whatnots that we had acquired. School now took place inside the four walls of our little classroom. And we were happy.

But not for long.

When Oliver joined our family, we abandoned the schoolroom. There was no way to keep him entertained in such a small area outfitted with so few toys--and no way to keep the bigger kids on track if we began toting in toys and wiggly toddlers. We retreated to the dining room table, and our schoolroom became a glorified storage space for our homeschooling supplies.

So where, exactly, do we "do" school these days? ALL OVER THE HOUSE. Over the course of today's lessons, I made a list of places where I found children actively engaged in learning:

Bedroom floor (Jo)
Bed (Atticus)
Game room couch (Atticus)
Closet floor (Logan)
Living room couch (Logan)
School room desk (Jo)
Computer desk (all three at various times)
My bed (Atticus)
Game room table (Logan)
Kitchen table (Jo)
Bathroom (Atticus, don't ask!)
Kitchen floor (Atticus)

That doesn't even touch the time spent in read-alouds, where all three of them sprawled on the living room floor and listened while playing with their various fidgets.

I guess that's why they call it HOMEschooling, huh?

What she said


I've been trying to sum up a few thoughts that are bouncing through my mind as of late and haven't quite found the words. It turns out that I didn't have to. SmallScribbler painted a far clearer picture than I could possibly manage today. Check out her post, A Sure Foundation, and then see what Isaiah has to say to you today.