Thursday, December 31, 2009

I'm Not Who I Was

Dear Dad,

I thought you'd never ask.

Or rather, I'd given up on you asking. See, I had waited and waited and waited until the hope of explaining had faded from need and into that quiet, still place where hope never dies, but no longer need to be fanned to stay alive.

You asked: "How did you forgive me?" and "Why did you reach out, and keep trying?" And I've got a good answer for all of it. But first, we have to go back to ... well, before you even left us.

By all standards, there was a lot to forgive. You admit yourself that parenting wasn't something you'd ever really aspired to, nor was it something that you saw as having much place in your busy, grown-up world. You had a life outside of the four walls of our home, and that was where you poured your love, your energy, and your passion. From the very beginning--as beguiled as you were by my pigtails and adoration of you--that place, that other, was your world. I never doubted that the time you gave to me was precious; It came in fits and starts, and was as dependable as the next phone call that would drag you away from the card game, the dance recital, the roughhousing in the pool. I don't remember you ever apologizing for the depth of your commitment to your job or your lack of commitment to your family. It was a foregone conclusion--to you, to us--that work came first. You were never ashamed of that, and so I grew to be ashamed of wanting you so badly, of daring to try and imagine a time when I would rank higher than the company that you ran with such diligence and care.

And then, of course, there was the drinking. You came from a long line of men who could hold their likker, and I doubt you ever thought twice about your nightly stop at "your bar." Amazing, isn't it, that three full generations on, you found and claimed your own local, just as Poppy's father had done back before he's watched his son take the boat from Ireland to the promise of America?

Your drinking was not of the savoring, social kind. It was in quantity, and not without ill effect. More than once my mother and I woke up to a crashed car in the driveway of our beautiful suburban home and tried to explain away for the polite folk how a man of such standing had managed to wreck his own car, make his way home, and pass out on the couch without feeling the need to tell a soul.

There was the fighting, too. The yelling, the slamming of doors, the throwing of objects. I can still tell you the exact volume level that a Red Wings game must be blasted at in order to cover the terrors of parents verbally assaulting one another on the other side of a wall: 18. I can also tell you that baby brothers accustomed to such ruckus will not awaken from sleep until their big sisters drown out the worst of the screaming with Henry Rollins' yells pumping from stereo speakers.

I will not go into the adultery or the acts of infidelity that you placed center stage in your marriage. We both know it's there, and we live with the shadow of its effects.

There was much to be forgiven from the beginning. Your leaving was, really, just lemon juice in a festering wound. Instead of wondering if you wanted to be with us at all, the answer was thrust into our faces: no, you did not want to stay.

You did not want to stay, so you left.

You left, and you took it all. You took our financial safety net, our ability to stay in the only home we had ever known, and the last shreds of my mother's mental stability.

You left, and you didn't look back. Years and years of black screen, as your absence spoke volumes over my most defining years. You missed it. All of it. The dances, the boyfriends, the college visits, mom's faltering grip on reality, my hatred for you, my young womanhood.

A lot to forgive.

But I have. Utterly, and completely. You know this. That stuff I mentioned? It's history--the back story of me, the pieces of the puzzle that come together like so many jagged edges to produce the person you see in front of you today. I recite them with no passion, no anger, no hurt. It is what happened. Bíodh sé amhlaidh.

Which bring us to the second question. Why did I then turn to you and seek to establish a relationship at all?

Clearly, you hadn't proven yourself very worthy of my love or trust. I'll be honest with you: friends and relatives have warned me (and will continue to warn me, I'm sure) of what an awful, heartless bastard you are. Of how you don't deserve my love. How the gift of even hearing about your grandchildren is too much of a reward for such a selfish life. How you need to reap what you've sewn: namely, loneliness and bitterness.

If I had a dime for every single mother fighting to raise her kids without the benefit of a father who has told me that I am wrong to offer friendship to you after the way you left, the lack of communication, the total absence and lack of interest in my life, well ... I'd be rich.

But I'd be no better off. And here's why. Please, listen closely, because I'm finally, after all that, getting around to answering your question:

I am not only your child. I am a child of the most high God. And as much as I have forgiven you, Dad ... He has forgiven me that much more.

I was no easy child, and I know it. Anything and everything that a child could get into, I did. And I don't just mean the small stuff, like dumping a tin of flour all over the kitchen floor. The big stuff. The heartbreaking stuff. Like the night when I was 15 years old and tried to run away by stealing your precious convertible, and ended up slamming it into the side of the house. No small potatoes. I remember the look on your face like it was yesterday; I wondered at the time if you'd ever look into my eyes again. I was horrified at myself, at you, at my mother. I channeled that horror into my big act of teen rebellion. And I meant it. At the time, I was glad that it hurt you.

Even that, though, has been forgiven. Not just by you (I know because you've told me) but by the One who bore the ultimate price for my pettiness, my ugliness, and my sinful self-worship mixed with self-loathing.

Five years ago now, I felt God speak to my heart about you. You and I had resumed a casual relationship of sorts after years of virtually no contact. Phone calls once every three months or so. The occasional picture mailed your way highlighting my growing babies. But as I sat thinking over a passage of scripture, you came to mind. And I knew what God was asking. He wanted me to open my life to you, and to allow you to taste something not filled with the bitterness and coldness that you deserved, but bursting with the warmth and love that Jesus has poured out on me despite the fact that I didn't deserve it, either.

I didn't want to do it, really. I mean, I knew I would--I've read about Noah, and had no intention of running away from Ninevah--but I was certain that it would be a simple exercise in obedience. "I will do as you say, God, because to not do it is worse than the discomfort I will have in trying."

So I decided to start writing you letters. At first, they were stiff and cordial. Do you remember those letters? How I couldn't use the nicknames of the children for fear that you wouldn't know who I was talking about? How I had so many blanks to fill in, like my husband's job, and what kind of a house we lived in? I searched and searched for minutiae to fill those letters. "I am going to bake Christmas cookies this week." "Our dog is growing so fast!" "I painted in my dining room." I sent those details faithfully, once per week.

I heard nothing from you. After three months, I began to get angry. All of my feelings of abandonment, all of my hurt, all of my desire to protect my kids from your sin and deserting resurfaced. It was nearly impossible to write those letters when my heart was so hard.

And then ... a miracle.

I let go.

All of it. It just ... slipped away, like a dirty sheet being stripped form a bed.

Underneath were the good memories. Trips to Dairy Queen, just me and you. You hoisting me on your shoulder as we walked into your office. My pride at riding shotgun in your fiery red pickup. The way you sang "Jackson" at the top of your lungs in the shower. Your hug at my 8th grade graduation, where you told me that I was both brilliant and beautiful. With the skin of anger pulled back, I could see the good bits again.

Delighted though I was with the changes in me, I couldn't wait to see what God's big plan was for this new-found connection. I wrote my letters diligently, still not hearing back from you. I waited, sure that soon, you'd send a card or call, letting me know that not only were you grateful to hear from me, but that you, too, had come to know Christ.

But it didn't happen. Instead, that year at Christmas, you sent my children gifts for the first time. I waited, holding my breath. You called once. I waited some more. The letters kept coming, always from Washington to Kentucky. You sent a birthday card for Atticus, then Logan. I wrote some more. And on and on.

Three years ago, we met for a one evening overlap in your favorite vacation spot. It was the first time you'd met Logan. We had just one evening to spend together, and I wondered how it would be--you and your wife meeting up with my family. Would it be awkward? Would we argue? Would there be anything to say at all?

Instead, that was the night I saw you pull 9 year-old Jo onto your lap, and tear up as you examined her freckled, sweet face. You grabbed my hand too tightly and whispered, with a hoarse voice: "She's so beautiful. She's you all over again."

Months later, you sent a note written on office stationary. It said, simply, "Thank you for sharing so freely what I've missed. Love, Dad."

It was so little, when my overtures had been so numerous and so grand. Still, it was what you offered, and I took it to heart.

And then, finally ... five years into my weekly letters. Five years into my calls and my photos, my love for you having finally (finally!) blossomed and soared past obligation and into true intimacy ...

You told me when I visited that you loved me. That you were so sorry for all that you had missed. That you would have never reached out to me, because you knew that the wrong you had done was too much to ask forgiveness over. We cried and hugged, and it was a beautiful night. You told me how proud you were of me, and how you are enriched through my love for you.

But still, you didn't ask why.

Until today.

So, today, Dad, I am telling you. I have forgiven you because I was forgiven. I love you because I was first loved. And I kept reaching, even when it seemed like there was no purpose in going on, because I was sought after and rescued by the God who seeks after you, too.

I give thanks every day that I have healing in my heart where once there was nothing but an empty, throbbing cavity. I give thanks that when people talk about their fathers, I think not of the Dad who abandoned me in my youth, but of the one who tells me he wishes I lived closer. A man, yes. Mortal and fallible and bound to disappoint. But once, I had nothing. You were given back to me by my Heavenly Father, and for that, I will give praise. And if somehow, some small way, my offerings of love and letters and access to my children can be transformed into you coming even one step closer to knowing the full power of that Father's love, I am honored.

So thank you for asking. Thank you for being grateful for my forgiveness. But keep looking, Daddy. Because the open hand I have offered you is a mustard seed compared to the wide, green spaces and unbearable lightness that is the forgiveness of Christ. As much as your daughter loves you, He loves you more.

With love,
Mary Grace

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Don't you just love/hate how those nit-picky truths of life get in the way of living the way you want to?

I sure do.

My most recent encounter with Things I'd Rather Act Like I Don't Know came in the form of an Elizabeth George book, "A Woman After God's Own Heart." Say what you will about the whole patriarchal vs. complementarian models of marriage, I think we all aspire to be the best possible wife and mother that we can be. And we know how to go about that. Really, we do. Being a faithful follower of Christ, a great wife, an awesome mother is not a secret path walked only by those who have Figured It All Out. If only that were the case! Then we'd have an excuse, right?
No, the truth is that so often, we (and I'm lumped soundly in this group, trust me!) just don't want to do the work that it takes to get there. Because that work, well ... it takes sacrifice. It puts others ahead of ourselves all the time, even when we aren't feeling especially giving. And really, it's not always as much fun as the other stuff.

We know the work that needs to be done. We've read the job description. We'd just rather ... you know ... read a book and drink Oolong tea. O.k., maybe that's just me. :-)

I have a firm, satisfying faith in the Lord. I have a great marriage. I have amazing relationships with each of my kids. People who know me in real life generally think I've got a decent head on my shoulders (I think). I am living the good life, people.

Reading Elizabeth's George's book, though, made me want to aspire to the GREAT life.

As I've said, the keys to the great life aren't hidden from us. They're in plain view, if only we choose to see them. Elizabeth George breaks them down as priorities:

#2-Your husband
#3-Your children
#4-Your home
#5-Your spiritual growth
#6-Your ministry activities
#7-Other activities

Everyone has to define the specifics entailed in those categories by herself, of course. For me, ministry includes phone calls (mentoring friends), fundraising for our nonprofit, doing some volunteer writing and editing for our foster agency, and a host of other things that might not look like "ministry" on the surface. My spiritual growth doesn't include my Bible time, because I put that up there with #1. But it does include listening to podcasts of some of my favorite pastors and speakers, as well as reading books like the one I'm talking about here.

I'd like to say that there's wiggle room in some of those last priorities, but you know what ... I've found over the past few weeks that for me, there's not. For example, I'm more than happy to slide #4 (Casa Blandings) down below ministry activities. But you know what happens when I do that? I end up in conflict with #2 (Mr. Blandings) who is suddenly sockless and bereft at the state of the laundry pile. And I'd also like to say that from time to time, #6 (in the form of writing an encouraging essay) can take precedence over #3 (the children), especially when there's a deadline looming. But again--catastrophe. Oliver ad Manolin find their way into the potted plants, Logan dares to use the last nub of Jo's pale blue watercolor pastel, and Atticus commandeers the very last pair of fresh lithium camera battery for his latest Lego robot creation. On Christmas Eve. I could say that where there are no oxen, the manger is clean and chalk all this up to the happy chaos of a large and growing family. But the truth is that my absence--my misplaced priority--has consequences.

Would that it were more difficult to discern. ((sigh))

MMX, people. 2010. A whole new year. A time of fresh starts. A season of rebirth and regeneration. Yet another moment to pause, reflect on the blessings we've been given, and recommit to steward them well and wisely.

I'm walking into the new year with a heart that's listening more intently for ways I can serve my most precious gifts. I'm using the priority list above to help me better allocate my time and my energies. Don't be surprised if you see me here a little less often than usual as I wrestle my earthly desires into line with my higher calling. There's a lot of work to be done, after all. All I have to do is roll up my sleeves and get to it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

TOS Review: Mathletics

Sometimes, you just can't predict whether something will be a hit or not. I admit it: I set up my free trial subscription to Mathletics, tooled around the site a bit and thought, "It's pretty good. But once the 'new' wears off, the kids will happy to move on."

I was so wrong.

I have no idea exactly what my children find so appealing about Mathletics, but they literally beg me to play it It's been such a smashing success that Mr. Blandings and I are trying to figure out how to swing an annual subscription of $59 for each of the three older kids. (With a special code, you get a $9.05 discount. The question that pops up is "What is The Human Calculator's favorite number?" The answer is 9.) If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that for us to even consider forking over that kind of cash, it's got to be something very, very good.

And yes, Mathletics is very, very good. In essence, it's a glorified drill program. It's extensive--exhaustive, even-- in scope and content, hitting the wheedling basics even with older kids, and pushing them in areas of newly acquired skills. The incentive for chugging through the vast library of mathematical thought comes in the form of "shopping" for new backgrounds, clothes, and accessories for your on-screen persona. My children (yes, even Jo) loved this. They happily sat and pounded through 45 minutes of practice that they wouldn't have tolerated for even half that length of time, all in the name of scoring enough points to add a new twist to their avatar's outlook. Did I mention that my children actually request time on Mathletics? That they have bemoaned the fact that we have only one computer with internet access? That they hooted and did happy dances when their father made inquiries about purchasing extended subscriptions?

Far and away, the coolest (imo) aspect of Mathletics is the "Play Live!" feature. Clicking on this section opens a window with a full world map. Your player's avatar pops up in a sidebar, along with their home country. And this is where the fun begins. In just a few seconds, you can see that the Mathletics program is actually scouring the globe, identifying players with similar skill levels from around the world. As the on-line competitors are lined up, their avatar and home country are posted in the sidebar, too. With three or four players ready, the real fun begins: a race against the clock--and each other-- for first place.

My children adore this element. It's an on-line, real-life math drill that pits them against players from anywhere and everywhere. Talk about motivation! Mastering your multiplication tables so that you can beat the socks off of the guy from West Ham is way more fun, says Logan, than doing it just so your mom will tell you you did a great job. Who knew?

I give Mathletics a huge thumbs up, if for no other reason than it truly excites my kids about math. On average, since having access to this site, each of my children has spent an extra half hour per day simply drilling age-level math problems. Without complaint. Without resignation. With joy. That's worth $50 a year in my book.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

TOS Review: Maestro Classics

We love books on CD here at the Blandings house. We also love classic children's tales. And yes, we love classical music. Combine all of that together, and you're bound to have a winner.

Maestro Classics are definitely a winner.

Blending a beautiful retelling of a beloved children's story with fabulous musicianship, these cds are the perfect backdrop for a quiet rest time, a short drive, or a little background distraction during some intensive preschool artwork. We received a copy of "The Tortoise and the Hare" and were delighted with the beautiful orchestrations and simple, classical story-telling. All of the Blandings kids were occupied with listening intently; That's saying something when you have a crew of kids aged 18 months through 12 years focusing on the same story cd!

The cds are each nearly an hour long and retail for $16.98. Samples are available on the website. Highly recommended as a homeschool library builder or a gift!

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Going public

At the beginning of this month, Oliver became our first-ever public schooler. Having just graduated from (mandatory) Birth To Three program participation, we faced a decision: either get speech services through the school district, or get them through the developmental preschool. After much prayer, we decided that the preschool was worth a try.

Oli has enjoyed the two hour, twice weekly program. He is excited when he sees his little clear plastic, school-issue backpack come off of its hook on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He flaps his hands as we pull into the school parking lot, shouting, "Bus!" and "Sk-ooooo!" alternately. He leaps from my arms as I carry him to his classroom, barely pausing to shuck his coat before he clambers onto the special chair marked with his name, ready to start whatever sensory activity that his teacher has lined up for the session.

I am mixed with this utter love and acceptance of school. Even as I wholeheartedly embrace the blessing of two hours per week of intensive speech therapy, I am torn.

The preschool was supposed to feel like a necessary evil. Instead, it feels like more of a gift.

What's wrong with this picture?

The truth is, I went to the initial IEP meeting with a closed mind. We had been very pleased with Oli's private speech therapist prior to being told that, as a foster child, he was required to be enrolled in the state-run Birth to Three program. These services were provided at a lower cost to DSHS. Sadly, in our case, that also meant that they were of a lower quality. I was fairly certain that this would be an across-the-board trend in our area, and didn't hold out much hope for the opposite to be true when he turned three and, still not legally adopted, needed to begin receiving services directly through our school district.

I went to the meeting wondering if there was any way possible to get Oli back into private therapy. At worst, I thought, I can just lug him into town for the school's speech therapy once a week, check that box, and find a program to do with him at home until he could be put on our insurance. What I heard at the meeting changed my mind. Instead of anti-homeschooling, overbearing professionals who were ready to step in and parent my boy, I found understanding, open-minded folks who admitted that they had never worked with homeschoolers before, but were more than willing to give it a try. What's more, the idea of a parent actually wanting to be an active part of the process thrilled them. I left the meeting with a flicker of hope in my heart.

Mr. Blandings and I prayed. We looked at our social, amiable son. We researched other options. We found peace; We would enroll him in the preschool. If it fell flat, we would find another way. But if not, well ... maybe there was something God had for Oliver ... some blessing we couldn't yet see.

The teacher is fabulous. Her long experience with developmentally-delayed preschoolers is made even better, in my opinion by her own status as an adoptive mom. She embraces a Montessori-type approach to preschool. Her classroom is uncluttered, slightly dim, and cozy. She likes Oli, and can elicit some of his genuine, deep smiles--the ones he saves for his favoritest people.

Oliver has two classmates. One is a tall, quiet little girl named Nikki who does not speak and is on the autism spectrum. The other is Nathaniel, also autistic, who can raise the roof with his laughter and wild jaunts around the room. Three three year-olds, a teacher and an assistant, plus a speech therapist and occupational therapist. Water tables. Small, manageable furniture. Push trikes and playdough. For two and a half hours.

I guess I can see why he likes it.

It's been an odd experience, adjusting to even this little bit of institutionalized schooling in our lives. The clock, on school days, always feels like it's ticking. Our activities wrap around those hours--1-3:20 p.m.--in a different way than they adjust for those random intrusions in ones life. And then, there's always the strangeness of not having Oliver home, not having to keep a steady eye trained on him lest he fumble his way into trouble. Or not having to make space for him in the grocery cart.

"My arms feel empty," Jo said the other day, as we sat on the floor, reading our astronomy text. I looked over and realized that, while my lap was happily full of a squirming, rocking Manolin, she was missing Oliver, her constant companion.

That afternoon, when we went to collect him, she threw the van door open and snatched him from my arms.

"My Oli!" she laughed, burying her head in his cheek. "How was your day? What did you do? Is that paint on your chin?"

Jo, Atticus, and Logan have been decidedly against the entire premise of "sending Oli away for school." They avert their eyes as I free him of his carseat straps and stand him on the curb, adjusting his heavy coat and helping him into his backpack. They make no distinction in their minds between a public school classroom where children play with playdough and sort weighted pegs all afternoon and ones where children labor over fill-in-the-blank worksheets and math quizzes.

Mr. Blandings and I have tried to explain it, but our words seem to fall flat. To our children--true black and white thinkers--there is no reasoning that public school could be the answer for a particular season, or service, or child, even. They don't want to go to public school. Therefore, they don't want their brother to go to public school. They respect our choice, but they don't understand it. While it pains me to know that they are wondering if I have utterly lost my mind, I am o.k. with their doubts.

The truth is, I have them, too.

I wonder if these hours in a classroom will have a worthwhile effect for Oli. I wonder if he will pick up behaviors that he doesn't currently struggle with. I wonder if I will forever be the squeaky-wheel parent, the only one to say "No, thanks" to the bus transportation, the only one to ask for a written list of skills being covered so that I can supplement them at home. I wonder if Oliver will learn anything. I wonder if I am wondering too much.

Before I send any of my children off into the world without me--be it to a night of AWANA or to a friend's to play--I always say this blessing over them:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

As I swing Oli into my arms just outside of the elementary school, I whisper these words in his ear and prepare my heart for handing him over not truly to the kindly Miss Teacher who handknit him a sweet hat to have as a "welcome to School" gift on his first day. No ... what I must remember is that I am handing him over to GOD. In following a prayerfully considered path, I am trusting that GOD is in control. He has led us here, and He will not allow harm to come to Oliver. And until we meet again, I trust that God will hold Oliver in the palm of His hand--his education, his future, and his heart.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Believe it or not, I started this blog with death in mind.

It's true: I started this blog because I wanted to leave something--anything--to bless my husband and children if I were to someday be tragically ripped from their lives. I was well aware then--as I am now--that my youngest children would have only the vaguest notions of me if one day I were to be simply erased from their daily routines. Yes, they'd struggle for a bit. A few weeks, a few months maybe. But eventually, the person who took over the singing, the rocking, the boo-boo kissing would replace me in their hearts and minds, and they would know nothing more of me than the snippets they were able to glean from others whose memories were longer and had deeper roots.

Just as my wee ones would forget me, I knew my husband would not. Mr. Blandings is, by nature, a piner. A lonely soul. A man who longs for closeness and connection. Without me as his earthly ballast, I am fairly certain that his period of drifting would be long and profound. Eventually, of course, he would find comfort. The Lord would not leave him to wander this life in pain or, even, without the counsel of a new friend, wife, and mother for his children. I can honestly say that this does not bother me; I am hopeful that, were I to be unable to perform the duties of wife- and motherhood, God will supply an equally capable and loving woman to step in and shepherd this family on a daily basis. She wouldn't be me, of course. But as long as she loved Jesus, loved my husband, and loved my babies, I think I'd be grateful to know that the role was being filled.

Out of this clarity, I began to write. Small things, really: This is how our day goes. This is what I'm thinking about. These are the little things that make my day, our day, feel just right. This is the big picture I am seeing. These are the places my heart is going.

Some day, you see, I wanted Mr. Blandings and my children to have a vast repository where they could visit me. Discover me all over again. And maybe, just maybe, know how deeply they were loved.

I wanted them to know that I am confident, now as ever, in the fact that the good times of this life are nothing compared to the good times to come in the next ... but oh ... I am so happy to have shared them here with each and every one of them.

I wanted them to know how much joy they have brought me.

How I have never regretted a single moment.

How my life has been all that I could have wished for ... and more.

This is why I started blogging, back in the beginning.

How about you?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas with the Blandings'

A flock of boys flanked by sisters! This year's stockings, l-r: Jo, Atticus, Logan, Oliver, Manolin, Bee

I took a slightly different direction with our annual Christmas newsletter this year. I started writing these updates in 2002, when our little branch of the family tree was swept up in the hurricane of relocation and deposited clear on the other side of the country. I've heard the whines and rants about Christmas letter over the years, but folks, I have no other idea how to keep a whole passel of family members in the loop when it comes to a horde of growing children and a lifetime of memories. I guess I could give them all my blog address?

On second thought ... no.

Anyhow, I write Christmas newsletters. I only give them to family members and dear friends, and no, I do not outline every academic award, AWANA jewel, and cute quip my little angels have uttered over the past twelve months. I'm a quick-and-dirty highlights kind of girl. For example, last year's section about Atticus said:

Atticus, age 8
Atticus has decided to employ his considerable brain power in the promising field of Star Wars scholarship. As you might imagine, competition in this area of study is fierce. Atticus must spend hours a day poring over tomes to look up fascinating (and relevant!) facts such as how many light sabers Obi Wan owned during his lifetime and whether or not AT-ATs can be safely transported by starship. In his down time, he stays sharp by nibbling grilled cheese sandwiches into the shape of X-Wing fighters.
That's not too bad, is it? I mean, it's not bad enough to be posted on a forum, followed by a gagging smilie, right?

I can only hope.

At any rate, this year I decided to set our update to song. I worked on it for quite a while, and I think I finally got it just right. I was going for whimsy, especially since the vast majority of our family thinks that we're unbelievably nuts. The final version is to the tune of "Deck the Halls" and is very tongue-in-cheek, while still celebrating the ups (and yes, the downs) of our year.

Here's a version that didn't quite make the final cut--my rewrite of the classic "Christmas in Killarney", shared here for posterity's sake.

Christmas with the Blandings'

Schooling tots, schooling pre-teens,

The busiest picture you've ever seen
Is Christmas with the Blandings'
With all of the folks at home

Verses to say and stuff to know
"I'm running a truck over Mommy's toe!"
And math facts, you know, of course
aren't very popular in our home

The door is always open
The social workers pay a call
And Adoption Workers, before they're gone,
Will check the house and all

How grand it'd be, a full day to see
Without interruption--sheer tranquility!
I'm handing you no blarney
The likes you've never known
Is Christmas with the Blandings'
With all of the folks at home

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Putting doubts to rest

I recently read a book about homeschooling that I disagreed with almost completely. The author's admitted bias, his background ... everything about it worked against the entire premise of the project: To begin the process of understanding homeschooling. I read the book, mostly because I am curious as to what anti-homeschooling advocates have to say, and also because I keep a sharp eye out for anything that might have the potential to undermine my ability/right/legal standing to homeschool my children.

I read the entire book. I shrugged when the author seemed unable to grapple with some of the truths we homeschoolers know to be self-evident (instructional time, for example, need not be as long as that often employed in a classroom setting). I shuddered when the author's point was proven. (Why, oh why, did the nearly illiterate parents from Tennessee--the ones who proudly displayed their "Rod of Correction"--volunteer to be interviewed?) And I was sadly resigned when the book closed with its premise unshaken: homeschooling is at best a substitute for poor classroom instruction, but at worst a detriment to the child.

I put the book down and tried to forget about it. The truth, though, is that a small seed of doubt was planted in my mind.
Is my best good enough for my children? Are they missing out on something magical that would, truly, speak into them academically?

Academics are my weak spot, you see. I don't doubt--not for a single second--that the moral training my brood receives is far superior to the one they'd have at the hands of someone who was forced to stay without the limits of what is allowed in a public school. It's the academics I worry about--the reading, the writing, the math.
Am I doing enough?

God has a funny way of setting these fears to rest. Last night, as Atticus as I made our way through a quick trip at our local grocery store, my eye was drawn to a bulletin board. On it were the collected works of a local third grade class--the best of the best, as it were. Assembled, for our viewing pleasure, were the efforts of several 8 year-old children who had been handed a worksheet. On it, the teacher had left a space for artwork, then written in a few sentence starters. On first glance, I thought this was a kindergarten assignment. In my homeschool, I stop giving intros in the beginning of first grade. Yes, I might dictate something (
"I want you to write a couple of sentences about how you feel. Need some help? You can use "I feel ...' or even "I am ...' Let's talk about how a sentence starts. First, you use what kind of letter?" etc.) but I'm not giving them fill-in-the-blank sentences that will be easily scratched in and forgotten.

But these sheets were noteworthy in their lack of any evidence of actual creative requirement, let alone any real instruction. These kids--one year older than Logan, one year younger than Atticus--
these kids, these promising, star public school students, were lauded for their work.

Seeing their efforts made me feel so much better. Punctuation either wildly incorrect, or missing entirely. Words misspelled far beyond phonetic accounting. Handwriting that is completely illegible.
And these are the ones they chose to celebrate in front of the entire community as a sign of the excellent education our local students are receiving!

Why did seeing this horrible excuse for public education make me, a citizen, feel better? Because truthfully, if this is what my local public schools expect of a third grader, I am in no way failing.


Homeschooling is not perfect. There are children out there, right now, ostensibly being homeschooled, who are 17 years-old and unable to read a newspaper through no fault of his own. There are homeschoolers who put on Wiggles videos to fulfill a music requirement. Yes, there are "homeschoolers" who beat their children.

But when held to the standard of education that is set before us by our communities, most of the homeschoolers I know personally far and away exceed the "bare minimum" that so many outsiders think we struggle to maintain. We are the parents who stay up late researching creative math games. We are the parents who spend hours sitting cross-legged on the floor with a globe on our lap and geography flashcards at our sides. We are the parents who peek over our 8 year-old's shoulder and sing, "I-before-E-except-after-C ..."

We are doing a good job. No matter what a handful of detractors think, we are educating our children. And we're doing it well. And with love.

Never forget that, mom.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A shameless plug for my Jo

In February, Jo is going to Nepal with her daddy.

Not planning on going.

Not hoping to go.

Nope, she's going. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Her mind is made up.

She is going in February. She wants to plant her feet on Nepali soil. But most of all ... she wants to be at the head of the line for giving Bee a big old hug and welcoming her to the family. If all goes well, she'll be escorting her new big sister home.

Now all she needs is $1,500 for a plane ticket.

In typical Jo style, this has not daunted her one little bit. She pulled out her account book, tabulated how long she has to sell off some bunnies, and began plotting other cash-generating opportunities. Among them? Her recent passion for bookmarking making.

In this vein, my little dynamo has recently set up an etsy shop, the better to peddle her wares. As a good momma, I'm giving her a shout-out here. Therefore:

If you'd like to help Jo get one step closer to her dream of meeting her big sister in February, would you please take a gander at her etsy site? And even if you're not in the market for a bookmark for yourself or as a gift to give this year, could you please pray that God brings the funds forward for her? She'd love to know that folks were lifting her desire before the Lord!

Jo's shop: Mission to Nepal

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Oliver is three today.


Who knew such a small number could make a mother so happy?

Monday, November 30, 2009

The leaving kind

It sounds cliché, but when we shared the news of our planned move to Nepal with Mr. Blandings' parents, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. You may have asked yourself what that Biblical phrase sounds like when transferred from the abstract text on a page to a real, live sound pouring from the lips of an individual. Do yourself a favor--try not to find out.

Truthfully, Mr. Blandings and I have caused such furor before. We have, after all, simply refused to live the kind of lives that fit into safe, tidy boxes. We were the couple that stomped and fumed over the location of our wedding (we gave in on that one). We were the thoughtless ones who got pregnant six months after said wedding. We were the malcontents who left the Catholic Church. We are the black sheep who decided to homeschool. We are the callous branch of the tree that lives thousands of miles away.

All in all, we cause heartache. And wailing. And yes, gnashing of teeth.

Madame Blandings, mother of my Mr. Blandings, has never quite forgiven us for causing her worry. I can't help but picture her wringing her hands from time to time, fretting over what we might do next. One income. No cable television. Adoption from foster care. International travel without an air conditioned tour bus. No prom for Jo. Dear Lord, help them help themselves!

I'm not sure where Madame Blandings went wrong, but her parenting efforts did not turn out a successful lawyer who spends long winter weekends skiing with his 1.5 children and rail-thin, doctor of wife. Instead, her oldest son drives a beater Volvo every day after kissing his wife good-bye and passing his hand in blessing over a rabble of children whose idea of snow fun is lashing salvaged bits of 2x4 from our discard wood pile out back to their rain boots.

Mothers worry. We know this down in our bones; The price of holding a child to your neck and feeling his breathing gradually fall into step with your own is to have your heart intertwined with his forever. You will sit up on feverish nights and pray sickness away. You will wince at hurts real and perceived. You will grieve the losses and dance in the victories. Forever, you will want the best for this little soul entrusted to your care.

But let's be honest--some children worry us more than others. They touch our softest, deepest heart-places and we link with that need in an almost primal way. Quite often, these are the selfsame children who seem programmed--almost from the moment they take their first breath--to chafe and kick against the very emotions that we ourselves can not help but lay over them like warm blankets on crisp nights. Why, Lord, why?

You may have a child like this in your own heart and home. Unabashedly independent, yet still so tender. Curious, but somehow nervous, as if his own explorations might bring him to a place where the whole applecart of his tenuous little being might be upended. Needy. Passionate. Unique.

I have one of these children myself, so I completely understand what Mr. Blandings' favorite aunt told me about his childhood one afternoon shortly before we were married:

"You have to understand, Mary Grace--the very first step Mr. Blandings ever took was a step away from his mother. She wanted to keep him so close, but all he ever did was go beyond her, getting into all kinds of trouble. I don't think she's ever forgiven him for that."

She hasn't. Her son, my husband, is still the little boy who will not behave. He is still escaping from his play-pen, straying into the unsafe places, and finding ways to vex her ... when all she's trying to do is make him happy.

Because surely, if anyone knows the key to a child's happiness, it's his mother, right? I know that I ascribe to this theory. Try this, you'll like it. Read this book, you'll enjoy it. You will tire of that sport, dear. Wear your coat, you'll get cold. How different is this from telling your son he should move back to the city he called home 20 years ago--the city where you still live? How much more peaceful is it to be the mother of children--even adult children--who are accounted for day and night? Who are financially secure? Who have all they could ever ask for? Whose lives are as easy and comfortable as you could ever ask?

While discussing Nepal, Madame Blandings said that we could not understand the kind of pain we have inflicted on her, and I agree. I don't know what it's like to wonder if my son is working, sleep-addled and exhausted, through yet another overtime shift to pay for Christmas gifts this year. I don't have to wonder if my boys are taking eating well, if they are adored as they ought to be, or if they are just a paycheck to a selfish woman who is too lazy to pull her own weight. I'm not there yet. But yes, I am treasuring all of these things up in my heart. Someday, after all, I will be the mother of boys who are no longer boys, but men.

The parting shot in our painful conversation with the elder Blandings' was this--

Tears in her voice, a tinge of anger seeping through, Madame Blandings addressed me, specifically.

"I hope you never go through this, Mary Grace. I hope you never know what it's like to have your kids scattering all over the earth and not even know whose hands they are in."

And this, I think, is the thing I am treasuring up the most.

Because I'll be honest, my heart leaps with delight at the thought of three, five, seven Blandings clans popping up in the hardest-to-reach areas of the globe. My heart mourns the missed Christmases and the birthdays without cupcakes, yes. But on a larger scale, I admit that I dream of being the kind of woman who God uses to multiply not just through biology, but throughout His Kingdom in a mighty movement of seed-planting.

I know in whose hands I have placed my children. And trust me, they are far better off with Him than they would ever be in the safe boxes which I might construct for them.

My prayer is that I can keep this momentum, that my heart stays fixed on this desire. Even as my children grown, and their leashes get longer and longer, and the stakes for their hearts just creep higher ... Lord, never let me forget that risks taken in Your Name are to be applauded, not run through a cost-benefit analysis. Let me grit my teeth through the feats of faith that You might lead my children through as You use them for Your purposes. Let me be the first one to step up in prayer and practice.

And most of all, Lord Jesus, let me never value safe above saved. Especially not when it comes to my own beloved children.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Of what can I claim to not be thankful for? I have a simply amazing husband, a marriage I have fought for and found joy in, three children born of that love, two more whose birthmothers chose life for them, another who God is leading to us from across the world. I am loved and cherished by the family of my youth. I have friends to call when my heart is either burdened or rejoicing. I can homeschool my children. I write when I wish to write. I have a full pantry. My home is warm.

And in the midst of all of the blessing and giving of thanks, it is so easy to forget the One to whom all thanks should be directed.

It is easy to forget the greatest gift of all:
I am a beloved child of the Most High God.

Give thanks with me.

Psalm 118:1

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TOS Review: Life on the Farm game

The best part of reviewing things, in my humble opinion, is passing along true gems that might get overlooked in the homeschooling world. Yes, yes,
I get free stuff. And don't get me wrong, that's very cool. But the number one thing that keeps me writing reviews is being able to try something that I immediately want to rush out and buy for everyone I know.

This game is one of those items.

Life on the Farm is a Blandings family game, through and through. It is a classic ... and I've only had it for a month and half. Already, it's in our normal game rotation. I think it's even edging out Horseopoly, but Jo hasn't noticed, so we don't have a mutiny on our hands. (Yet.)

This is the kind of game that makes your kids laugh, starts fabulous discussions, can be played as individuals or teams, and requires some good old strategy skills. Before opening the box, Atticus predicted that it would be "Monopoly ... with cows." Turns out he was
kind of right. Life on the Farm is what happens when the little plastic people from The Game of Life get out of the car, snatch the Monopoly money, and settle down on a family homestead. With dice.

You get sent to the back 40. You collect a milk check. Your cattle get sick. Taxes come due. Equipment needs to be repaired. And in the end, you retire.

All without getting your hands dirty. Nice, huh?

The game is $25 and would make a fabulous addition to any family's collection. Younger children (say, under 7) can easily buddy up with older siblings or a parent to play. There's high interest for adults, too; This is not a game you will endure, mom. You will enjoy it. Really!

The game is available through the family who created it, at some specialty stores, and at (where it's currently listed at $19.99). It would make a great family gift for yourself, or for giving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

At the library

I ran into a friend at the library today. She had a grande something-yummy-with-whip in her left hand, and in her right hand were three of the novels that have been on my "to read" list for so long that I had even forgotten to put them into my Paberbackswap wishlist. She'd just come from getting her hair done, she said--and indeed, her hair looked as fresh and springy as the very hip dress boots she was sporting.

"You here with the little ones?" she asked, tilting her chin to Manolin, who was strapped into the stroller, scowling. Oliver stood dutifully nearby, mumbling, "Howwd dight, 'Li. Howwd dight, 'Li," as a reminder of his role in this whole process.

"Oh, no. They're all around here somewhere," I said, waving my hand to indicate that my offspring were lurking deep in the stacks. Not deep enough, apparently; Just then, Logan bounded by, followed closely by our rattling, overstuffed book bin.

"I don't know how you do it," she told me then, and I pondered this familiar phrase anew. What part is so novel? What seems impossible? At what point, I wonder, do I approach insanity in the eyes of the masses?

"It's not that tough," I said then, catching the beautiful sight of my daughter's lithe form heading towards me with a toothy grin, arms full to bursting with her haul of reading material. "They're great kids."

"Yeah, but ...." and she stopped for a minute, pondering the plausibility of it all. "You gave up all of this," she raised her latte and reading material, "for that." Again, she nodded in the direction of my little brood.

I couldn't think of a thing to say, so she filled the silence.

"I have the best of both worlds," she continued. "I've got my kids. And when they're at school, I get this too."

She offered me a the Cheshire Cat grin of one who has figured it all out.

Just then, Atticus--who must have spent the past ten minutes plotting out his sneak attack--wrapped his arms around me in a bear hug from behind, nearly toppling me over in surprise. I laughed so hard that Manolin and Oliver caught the giggles and started shrieking. Our joy echoed through the stillness of the library. I ruffled Atticus' copious strawberry-blond hair.

My friend was staring at me now. Her eyes had softened.

"My nine year-old wouldn't be caught dead hugging me in public," she admitted with a longing sigh.

I contemplated her coffee, her new haircut, her ability to read for hours on end, uninterrupted. I could still feel the firmness of my delighted, delightful Atticus' arms as they snaked around my sides. I made a mental note to check my Paperbackswap wishlist status, and to put a Starbucks card on my Christmas list.

"God bless you," I told her, and I meant it. "Have a great day."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The view from my couch

It's cold. It's raining. The sun has barely made its presence known.

But inside our little home, it's warm, and cozy. The fireplace is humming. Books are being read. Scarves are being knit. Children are laughing. Cookies are being nibbled.

Yeah. I'm blessed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

He is there

I read Danielle's blog post at 6 Year Med today, and I cried. I cried and I cried ... because that little girl, well ... she was my Oli. My dear, precious, sweet little Oliver.

The little bits that I know about Oliver's life before "coming into care" (as we say in the fostering world) come from a stack of medical files that I never should have been given. A social worker plopped them in my lap at a case meeting, and I realized right away what a gold mine I'd been given. Pages and pages and pages of completely irrelevant, minuscule details about Oli's physical state from birth to 7 months of age. I probably should have handed them right back. But I didn't. I held onto them. And in a quiet moment alone, I pored over them with a fine tooth comb, holding my heart in my throat as I stared into the dark little places where I had not been able to kiss boo-boos or soothe tears.

Oliver's birthparents, like the mother in Danielle's blog post, had a habit of literally dropping him in the ER. When his life was still numbered in weeks, he was deposited, like so much spare change, in the repository of institutional care that the hospital offered. The careful, professional notes made by countless nurses/angels who watched over him pierce my soul anew every time I ponder them:

"Mother contacted by phone and advised of patient's status. Mother asked that she not be called again until her son was ready to be discharged."

"Father visited baby for forty minutes, and spent the entire time playing with his cell phone. Was not interested in interacting with baby."

"Mother said patient had been vomiting for three hours. Left immediately after child admitted."

I read these things, and they make me mad. I'd like to think it's a righteous anger. I picture Oli, skin and bones, swimming in a cage-like hospital bed, hooked to tubes and monitors. I imagine sweet, soft-faced nurses leaning over him and whispering, "It's o.k., baby. You're all right." I pray that he heard these gentle words, and that they took root in his tiny soul.

I hope beyond hope that someone, anyone, took the time to hold him. In the rush of the night, in the chaos of the job ... I pray that a few moments were stolen where Oli's head rested on a loving shoulder, and that he felt hands that brought soothing comfort in the midst of it all. I pray that someone took the prompting to be God's hands, even as He was pouring out His heart for that hurt, sick little boy.

Some day, I hope to meet the angels God placed in Oli's path as he journeyed to us. I'd love to wrap my arms around the men and women who took note, the ones who saw wrong and wanted to make it right. I want to thank them for standing up and being counted. I want to thank them for my son's life.

Maybe I'll meet them here, in this life. Maybe I will meet them in heaven.

God places people in our path every day who make a difference. Maybe it's the person who does the obvious: the doctor who admits the broken baby to the hospital, calls Child Protective Services, and files a report. Sometimes it's the people we don't even notice, though. The person who bags the bread on top, so it doesn't get crushed. The elderly lady at the library who smiles and pats our back, telling us how it blesses her to see such a beautiful family.

God's hand is in all of it. HE IS PRESENT. Don't doubt it for a minute.

Our God is in the business of healing, rescuing, and restoring. He is a just and mighty god. And yet ... He cares even for the tiniest among us. The forgotten. The babies whose parents can't even be bothered to set foot in their child's hospital room.

He is there. Let us not forget.

Jeremiah 31

"At that time," declares the LORD, "I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they will be my people."

This is what the LORD says:
"The people who survive the sword
will find favor in the desert;
I will come to give rest to Israel."

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:
"I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

I will build you up again
and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel.
Again you will take up your tambourines
and go out to dance with the joyful.

Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.

There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
'Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the LORD our God.' "

This is what the LORD says:
"Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
'O LORD, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.'

See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.

They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel's father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

"Hear the word of the LORD, O nations;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
'He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.'

For the LORD will ransom Jacob
and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.

They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD—
the grain, the new wine and the oil,
the young of the flocks and herds.
They will be like a well-watered garden,
and they will sorrow no more.

Then maidens will dance and be glad,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

I will satisfy the priests with abundance,
and my people will be filled with my bounty,"
declares the LORD.

This is what the LORD says:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more."

This is what the LORD says:
"Restrain your voice from weeping
and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,"
declares the LORD.
"They will return from the land of the enemy.

So there is hope for your future,"
declares the LORD.

TOS Review: Gymathtics

I'll just be blunt: Jo, Atticus, and Logan were not impressed with Gymathtics. And nothing I did made it any better.

I read the back of the dvd box to them as Jo popped the disc into the player.

"It says it's multi-sensory learning ... helps you retain math concepts ... a whole lot of those basic skills ... things you really need to know ... and you get to move a lot! Won't that be cool?"

Logan eyed the television skeptically as cheerful, upbeat children began a follow-the-leader type exercise routine with a mathematically-inspired flair.

"Can you make your body into the shape of a square?" the mom on screen asked her bevy of wide-eyed, adoring, and enthusiastic kids as they began a new concept.

"No, I can't," Atticus answered.

I tried to play along, feigning excitement with the grating cheer of it all. I got down on the floor and pulled Oliver onto my lap, which is when I noticed ...

He loved it. Absolutely thought it was the greatest thing since the Wiggles. I'm not joking. He happily moved along with the older kids on the screen, and bobbed his head to the beat. I don't think he's any closer to knowing how triangles are constructed but hey, he had fun for half an hour.

So apparently, even though the folks at Gymathtics think they have a 2nd-5th grade math product on their hands, what they're really selling is a $24.99 educational/exercise program for preschoolers.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mary Grace and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

You ever wake up in one of those moods?

I do.

Not very often ... but sometimes. Usually it's because before my eyes even open, my brain is already rattling through a whole list of things that I need to get done.

Gosh, I hate that.

But it happened to me this morning.

First thing in the morning--6 a.m., bright and early--my eyes slid open and BOOM! There was my to-do list. It was almost as if it was written on the ceiling, it was that clear.

At-home therapy appointment for Oliver. (ugh)
Phone call with birthparents. (sigh)
Check in on my mom, who just had surgery. (ugh)
Schedule Manolin's 18 month check-up. (do I have to?)
Oliver's speech assessment. (whine)
Atticus to Karate. (ugh)

And on and on. You get the point.

So my attitude was poor from the get-go. And yes, I had a bad day. And the thing was, I knew I was having a bad day because I was in a bad mood. I just couldn't seem to do anything about it.

I hate that. I hate it when my brain can't seem to shake the general yuck and grab onto some joy. I want to give thanks in all circumstances. But the truth is ... sometimes I whine. Sometimes I whine a lot.

And today I was the Queen of Whine. School barely got done. I checked off my to-do list but, buddy, I was not happy about it. I even got two really cool boxes of books that did nothing for me.

But tomorrow ... tomorrow I'm going to wash that grey right out of my hair. I've decided that it's a no-whine zone. I'm going to be happy.

Because just like I decided today that I was going to be in a foul m odd, I figure I can decide that tomorrow is shiny happy day. Why not? I'll let you know if it works.

Monday, November 16, 2009

So easy, it's sinful

Remember my commitment to make more gifts this year? Well, I'm doing it! I'm actually, satisfactually doing it! YEAH, me!

Today's little tutorial features Jo making gifts for her friends.
If you or your daughter is likely to be on Jo's gift list, please do my girl a favor and keep this dark, o.k.? She's really excited about her little craft spree, and if her mom managed to ruin the surprise factor with her blog, of all things ... well, it would be drama. ((insert eye roll here)) And the last thing a 12 year-old girl needs is more drama.

O.k., on to the gift ....


When Jo saw the link to the elastic bookmarks, she was smitten. And why not? It's truly the ultimate gift for a homeschooled pre-teen--at least most of the ones we know. I was planning on making some of these as well, but Jo wanted to dive right in so I handed the reins to her. We went to our local craft shop, got some simple supplies, and tried it out. Turns out, they're so easy that you really have to make half dozen of the things in order to fill up any time at all. Really. They're that easy. But don't take my word for it. I've got pictures to prove it.

charms (Jo bought nice ones at $9.99 for a pack of three. Most were far cheaper, but it was her money so hey, buy what you want kid!)
elastic cording ($1.79 for enough to make a dozen or so bookmarks)
optional: jump rings (if your charms didn't come with them) Does the charm face forward on a string? If so, it doesn't need a jump ring.

And away we go---

1. Measure and cut about 15 inches of elastic cording.

2. Slide on a charm.

3. Knot the cording just above the charm.

4. Knot the loose ends at the top. Trim to even the cording.

5. You made a bookmark! Simply slide it around the book and enjoy.

I told you it was easy. It's also überpractical and cute to boot! Who wouldn't want one of these?

Friday, November 13, 2009

On grace

Do you ever notice that the one person who seems to zero in on all of your faults, the one person who gleefully calls you on the mat, the one person who nags you when you stumble is ...


Yeah, it's like that for me, too. I am my own harshest critic. I am the one who points out my shortcomings, who sighs dejectedly when goals are not met, who brings out the wet noodle when things go undone. I am the one who sees that the floor has not been vacuumed. I am the one who tells guests at the front door to please excuse the fact that I have a living room overrun with small plastic whatnots. I am the one who sees the science book lying there, untouched, and chastise myself for failing to make time. Again.

I strive to be the perfect wife, mother, and homeschooler. Of course, I can't be any of those things perfectly. I'm lucky to even be a good wife to my deserving husband, a passable mother to my fabulous kids, and the kind of teacher that I want to be. I constantly walk around with the knowledge that life is a delicate balance. Ample portions must be placed neatly on each platter. This one is for my husband: I'll give him time, encouragement, love, support, respect, and a house that he will be proud to come home to at night. This one is for my children: I'll give them love, cuddles, discipline, gentle words, security, joy, and fun. This one is for my role as a homeschooler: here I place my self-discipline, my creativity, my intellect, the flames of curiosity, and all the patience I can muster.

All it takes it one slight nudge in any direction for everything to swing out of balance. Too much in the way of fun for the kids, and the self-discipline needed to accomplish those school goals can fly out the window. Too much time invested in helping my husband with the practical stuff, and I might just have to shuffle my kids off in front of the television for a half hour. And wait just one doggone minute here! Where's my plate?!?!

It's a balance. It's hard work. And it's heart work.

I really need to give myself more leeway and grace. I need to make sure I'm in line with God's will, and trust that the rest will follow. I need to tune into Him, and trust that He will provide the details as I move to be the woman He wants me to be.

If only I could quiet that nagging voice. "You're doing it wrong. So-and-so is so much better at that than you are. Are you sure you're cut out for this?"

And here's where I'm going to cut to the chase and throw open the doors to my heart:

Sometimes, the voice I hear isn't my own. Sometimes that voice belongs to my fellow homeschooling moms.

At some point, somewhere along the journey, many of us begin to feel like we've figured it out. We hit our stride (even if it's just for a season), and things are working well. Our husbands are madly in love with us and delight in our every word. Our children are impeccably behaved, cute as buttons, and geniuses to boot. Homeschooling is a joy, and we can't wait to begin each day's adventure in education.

And we start to think that we have discovered the secret. You know--The Way To Do It.

So, of course, we tell others.

We pass on tips on homemaking, housekeeping, being the perfect wife, child training, selecting curriculum, selecting a church, you name it. We rattle off reading lists, mention specific scriptures, talk about speakers we've heard. But instead of simply offering granule of life experience, we add a small caveat to our gleanings. It's usually completely unspoken, but it's there. It's judgement.

If you don't wear dresses all the time, you're not conservative enough.
If you don't have a dozen kids, you're not a good enough mother.

If you don't joyfully submit to your husband 100%, you're not a good enough wife.
If you don't wake up at 4 a.m. for a 2 hour prayer-time, you're not a good enough Christian.
If you don't do school for six hours a day, you're not a good enough homeschooler.

"Did you see how her son acted at co-op? Awful. You know, I'm so glad that we have a first-time obedience policy. My kids never act that way, because they know we mean business."

"I heard they're having marital problems. If she would just stop trying to run the family, they'd be fine."

"I doubt they even actually homeschool at all. They seem to be involved in every activity coming and going.

For some reason, homeschooling and legalism seem to walk hand in hand quite often. And the truth is, legalism is appealing. It seems to offer the one charted course that leads to the safe, soft-focus destination called Perfection. There are rules and order in legalism. There are Scriptures with very definitive takes on very specific things. There are clear-cut right ways and clear-cut wrong ways. Go this way and it will all turn out. Veer off course and-- you're told--you'll hit the rocks. And really, who doesn't want a guide book that promises to make everything in your life turn out just so?

I have struggled with legalism. I have looked at my own life, with it's bruised apple spots, and thought that maybe the answer could be found in a certain attitude toward my husband, or a particular form of femininity. I have watched as my children have grown, and I have feared life's ups and downs for them, wondering if perhaps erecting certain fences in our family might spare them from future pain.

For a season, those things seem to bear fruit. And then, invariably, I hear that still, small voice asking me the question that never fails to bring my carefully constructed perfection crumbling down:
What about grace?

What about grace, indeed? Pursuing righteousness and holiness is a noble and good task. Bathing your family in the goodness of God, instructing your children in His words, being in the world but not of it ... these are all things that the Lord commands us to do.

But He also asks one other thing of us as we walk the path that leads, ultimately, to His mansion for us:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. --1 Thessalonians 5:11

My fellow homeschoolers, we all fight the feelings of defeat and insufficiency that lead us to look at our days and wonder why God chose us. Please, instead of adding to that chorus of pain with more baggage and assumptions, can't we instead give a good report of one another? Can't we look at the harried mom of two kids who is trying to make it work and pat her on the back without pointing out that we have six kids and are getting by just fine? Can't we quit turning up our noses at the wife whose husband has no interest in being a leader of anything, let alone their home? Can't we drop the co-op dress codes that make it seem as if Jesus wouldn't be caught dead in a room devoid of denim jumpers?

Can't we extend grace?

Because frankly, we need it. We need it from ourselves, we need it from our friends and, most of all, we need it from God. The thing is--the Lord offers it new every morning. It's the rest of us who haven't gotten the memo.

I'm working on grace right now--for myself and for those around me. I'm praying that God gives me His eyes, and His love. And maybe, maybe ... just a little bit of His grace and mercy to pass around.