Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Silence is relative

Mr. Blandings is off on yet another camping adventure with Jo, Atticus, and Logan--which leaves me home with just two small people, neither of whom is verbal beyond the random noun tossed out to identify a desired object. This amounts to a whole lot of "book!" and "ball!" but not a ton of "May I have a turn?"

Of course, there are shrieks of delight, howls of indignation and the warble of the inevitable tussles that erupt between two children only slightly offset when it comes to developmental age.

It occured to me that pre-kids, I would have thought that my house sounded like a war zone tonight. Oliver was keening, clinging to my shirt and trying to do his best imitation of an opera singer longing mournfully for the return of a beloved blanket.

"Baaaay! Baaaaay! Baaaaaaaayyyyy!"

Manolin was rocking just under my feet, screaming at the top of his lungs for a bottle that was simply too slow in coming.

It was a relatively calm night. Compared to say, other nights in my house. Like the one that featured our already-mentioned stars in their favorite roles, but with guest appearances by Jo (clanging about in the sink filling water bottles for her rabbit cages), Logan (rattling the silverware as he emptied the dishwasher) and Atticus (humming, at full volume, the Indiana Jones theme). And probably a ringing telephone or two to make things interesting, of course.

Now that gets a little loud.

But two little ones? Crying their way through bedtime?

Like music to my ears, I tell you. Especially the part when their little eyes close and I'm all by my lonesome. :-)

Monday, June 29, 2009

TOS Review: 2009 Old Schoolhouse Planner

There was a time when I basked in the free-wheeling glow of summer. I can still remember those days: pulling the sunscreen out, cranking the spigot wide open and filling the kiddie pool just high enough for three little ones and their momma to bask in the sun, Otter Pops in hand.

I tell you, I could spend entire days right there, up to my belly button in water growing more tepid by the minute, shielding my eyes from wayward splashes and hoping that the pre-frozen meal I'd pulled out would be thawed in time to have it cooked when Mr. Blandings got home.

Nowadays, I'm more likely to be found sitting at the shady picnic bench, surrounded by books and papers while my three oldest cavort through the sprinkler and the little ones gasp in awe at the miracle of the bubble machine. This is summer a season on down the road: homeschooling mom to children whose skills need to fall somewhere around the 7th, 4th and 2nd grade by next spring. Homeschooling mom who needs to finesse in therapies and developmental activities for a 2 year-old who is in need of assistance. Homeschooling mom who will have yet another toddler tossing Legos during read-alouds in the fall.

If you read that last paragraph and feel a sad wistfulness on my behalf, please don't! I actually don't miss the kiddie pool nearly as much as I thought I would. Maybe it's the gift of having been truly present during that season? Maybe it's a new found aversion to lounging in water that also doubles as "base" when a good game of tag is afoot? I don't know. But whatever the reason, I'm tickled by my new role as Summer Planner Extraordinaire.

After a few weeks of decompression from our most recent completed SL Core, I like to begin digging in to the process of assembling something of a plan for our next steps. Since we use a mostly year-round school schedule, I jump from one ship to another fairly quickly. The key in all of this shuffling and resorting?

A really good planner.

For years, I made do with free printables that I had culled from one of my favorite spots on the internet. Then, last year, I discovered a gem: The Old Schoolhouse Planner. The forms I had been using? Oh, yes--they were in there. As were many, many others that I would never have thought would be so handy. (A sheet to list all of your website logins and passwords? Be still my heart!) There were templates, guides and skill sheets galore. Checklists. Household information. A wishlist for homeschool items. Articles on topics I'm actually interested in. Recipes!!!

O.k., I'll stop.

It's $39, guys. A small price to pay for something that will revolutionize your homeschool.

If you hit the link above, you'll see that this is an ebook product. Then you'll wonder why on earth I assemble mine at my picnic table. True, the TOS Planner is designed so that you can type directly into the forms and save copies--even multiple children subject planners. But I choose to use mine in an old-fashioned way, printing out a hard copy of only what I need and adding it to a massive binder that is second in my scheduling heart only to the Palm Centro that Mr. Blandings bought me for Valentine's Day (romantic that he is!). This way, I can have my planner on the kitchen counter as I school, or even take it with me if I have a use for it while I'm out and about.

In addition to the massive amount of information already in the planner itself (a guide to cloud formations, anyone?), additional modules are available each month to help you kick up your school planning yet another notch.

So this is my summer in nutshell: picnic bench, lemonade, the squeals of my children, and my Old Schoolhouse Planner. I guess this is the kiddie pool of the homeschool mom! :-)

Monday, June 22, 2009


If weeding a garden is, as an adult, a metaphor for yanking the sin bits out of your life before they can take hold and choke out the good parts ....

What exactly does it signify for kids?


My last post has been removed. Upon re-reading it, I felt that the possibility of people I loved being hurt or offended was far too great a possibility. I'll try to readress the topic without taking the same approach at a later date.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I have failed

Tonight, I went into the bathroom, only to be greeted with this:

Which (
obviously) is wrong.

So I called down the hall: "Hey ... who changed the toilet paper roll?"

Logan poked his head out of his bedroom.

"I did," he answered.

"Oh," I shrugged. I wasn't going to say anything. Really, I wasn't. But he came in to check out what I was checking out.

"Why are you doing that?" he asked as I flipped the roll so that the paper dispensed from the top of the roll. You know--
the right way.

"Doesn't it just look better?" I asked, suddenly feeling really silly for having even made an issue out of it. I mean, really--someone changed the roll when it was gone. How massive of an accomplishment is that in this house?

"Uh, no," Logan said, pulling his chin back and screwing his face into the horror of horrors!
look that he saves for ER needles and salad dressings that don't start and end with the word "ranch."

"Seriously?" I asked, eyeing the now-symmetrical profile of the roll, draped in its little covering of paper. All was once again at peace in the universe; the roll was happy.

"No," my son reiterated. "I prefer it the other way."

And that was it: the moment when I knew I had completely failed in this endeavor called parenting. Because honestly, if I have not passed on the desire to always have the paper coming out on the top of the roll, what else matters?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Decidedly Domestic

I had a fabulous day today. One of those days when you pick up the mantle of the Proverbs 31 woman and run with it ... and it feels good.

First and foremost, today was my 13th wedding anniversary. Amazing, isn't it? Mr. Blandings and I truly have one of those marriages where it feels like we just met--but yet, it seems like we've been together forever. I think this is a good sign. Plus, it's a lovely thing, being a wife. Knowing that I have someone to walk through life with is priceless; knowing that someone right here beside me would do literally anything for me is enough to send my heart into little flutters of girly love.

Add to this the fact that Jo was beaming with happiness, Manolin is flirting with taking his first shuffling steps, Atticus was his huggable self, Oliver found his way into a truly adorable, truly toddler predicament that cracked me up when he was supposed to be taking a nap (o.k. the truth is I found him in the toilet, splashing away happily. But the toilet was clean, I promise!), and Logan only had two near-misses when it came to the whole obedience thing ... and you can see why it was a good day at Casa MG.

And then ...

I cleaned out my fridge. Really cleaned it out. It felt so good to have every surface wiped clean, every jar free of dribbles, every shelf immaculate. It was so inspiring that I vowed to tackle another reorganization project tomorrow.

On the school front, I administered the CAT tests for Atticus and Jo. Our state requires some form of evaluation and the $25 CAT tests were just what the doctor ordered this year. The kids rolled their eyes all the way through them ("Seriously? Why do they call it an opposite? It's an antonym!") but I felt reaffirmed in my homeschool mom capabilities. Which, of course, is never a bad thing.

But wait, there's more!

Today's meals were absolutely scrumptious. I am not a foodie, per se, but I appreciate it when the simple becomes sublime. And today, when I tucked in to one of the best lasagnas I've made in ages, complemented by fresh lettuces and spinach that I had grown myself from tiny little speck-sized seeds ... well, it was one of those warm fuzzy moments that make you sigh deeply and give thanks for the abundance of good that finds its way to your table.

And finally, as my day began to wind down, I sat with my daughter and sewed a sweet, simple A-line skirt for her. Working together on little projects is one of my favorite ways to pass unremarkable--yet memorable--time with Jo. As we sat at the table, sliding pins into the fabric and talking about the happenings in our little brood, I realized that the few years I have left with my girl under my roof will be rich with evenings like this. All of a sudden, the things she has left behind didn't seem quite so worthy of mourning. Instead, there was a sense of anticipation for what the future holds.

And now, I'm going to climb into my bed and spend a little time perusing one of my new favorite books: The Gentle Art of Domesticity. This book is colorful, inspiring and fun--just what I need in my life right now. An excerpt from the introduction that I found myself nodding along with:

...I never classed myself as a budding domestic diva. Instead, I fell in with the expectations of my fiercely academic girls' school and went along with wanting, and preparing for, some brilliant career. I was banned from the art room, even though I argued that some downtime from Russian irregular verbs could only be good for a girl. The few who did dare to follow their artistic bent were seen as rebels and likely to come to no good. And this, my I remind you, was the 1970s, not the 1870s, but I cannot recall a single mention of the three Ms: Men, Marriage and Motherhood. No heed was paid to the fact that we were all women, most of us likely to have relationships with the opposite sex and make babies, and inhabit a domestic space of some sort. And yet there we were, educated at the height of the second wave of the feminist movement, in collective denial about one immensely significant aspect of our future lives.

((For more, check out the author's blog. ))

So that was my day. How was yours? :-)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Gift

The best thing--the deepest, most lasting thing--that homeschooling has given my children is one another.

Tonight, as I prepared to send the oldest three off to bed after our reading time, Logan cast a long glance sideways at his big brother and sister.

"Do you think," he asked, "we could have a sleepover in Jo's room?"

Jo is the only member of our family who enjoys the privilege of her own bedroom. The four boys occupy what was once our master bedroom: Atticus in a single bed, Manolin in a crib and Logan and Oliver sharing a set of bunk beds. It is a decidedly unequal arrangement--four boys in one room, one girl in another--but this is what works for us.

Jo can feel left out of the fray, all alone when the boys are sharing hushed giggles across the hall as the lights go out. She is always eager to host one or two brothers in her room for the night. She says hearing them breathing is somehow more comforting than the sound of her clock ticking in the stillness.

My children--all five of them--are together all day. From sun up, when Manolin stamps his time card for rooster duty by crowing happily until one of the older boys stirs ... until sun down, when the last chapter has been read and the oldest three make their way up the stairs ... they are together. They are side by side as they unravel math problems. They are draped over one another as they read. They are being throttled by a toy truck as they try to build with Lincoln Logs.

Always, there is someone else. A sibling.

Personal space is precious in our house. There is no bus ride to a place where you might happen upon your sister in the hall and be able to pass her by. There is no separate life that intersects only at mealtimes. The same five people are constantly rubbing against one another, telling the same jokes, struggling with the same character flaws, testing the same buttons. A room of one's own must seem like an oasis, a set apart place to shake off the hurts and blisters of a day spent being jostled and questioned by younger brothers.

A person really couldn't blame Jo for drawing the line. For staking her claim. For protecting the small slice of the world that she inhabits alone.

After Logan's question, Jo threw her arm over her brother's shoulders. She is so tall now, so slim and feminine when compared to the lanky, Great Dane puppy of a 7 year-old that is Logan. Her head flopped over against his, their hair color a perfect complement but nowhere near a match.

"Can they, Mom?" she asked, throwing me puppy dog eyes.

I looked at Atticus and saw him cracking his Kid in a Candy Store grin.

"Let me grab your pillows and blankets," I told them, without reservation.

This is what I want my children to remember: a warm summery day giving way to a cool, slightly damp night. The sound of a fan humming downstairs. Jo draping herself half off her bed to talk as the night grows dark. The feel of a cool sheets spread out on the floor. A joke about bears and rabbits. Logan dropping off to sleep in spite of himself. The nightlight casting a barely-there glow across a pink room.

And each other. Always, each other.

This is the precious gift that homeschooling gives to children: the simple act of growing up in the arms of the people who love you. No barriers. No separation. Just togetherness, and the easy-going comfort that comes with truly knowing someone inside and out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's covered

In my last cloth diapering post, I mentioned that I would be contacting CottonBabies to see about getting some replacement tabs for my BumGenius 3.0s. While the diapers and inserts were still stain-free and in great condition--even after a year of heavy use--the hook and loop tabs and laundry panels had all but given up the ghost. It wasn't unusual for a curled tab to snag the edge of a fuzzy sleeper and come open, or for me to pull a tangle of snagged covers from the washer and spend a few minutes separating them before sending them on to the next stage of the laundering process.

To my (happy) surprise, CottonBabies not only replaced the tabs on our BGs ... they gave us a whole batch of brand new covers.

Apparently, this only works if your diapers are still under warranty (within one year of purchase date). I think they also had to be purchased from the all-important "authorized vendor" as well, but since mine were ordered through CottonBabies, I didn't read that part carefully. Sorry.

It took slightly longer than I expected for my covers (they didn't replace the inserts) to be returned. When they arrived, however, it was like Diaper Box Day all over again. Brand new diapers! Yeah!

These covers are supposedly
New and Improved! but I can only see some tiny changes, like the size of the laundry tab. The washing instructions, however, have changed significantly. CottonBabies no longer recommends drying the covers at all; hanging is the only method that keeps your new warranty in effect. The directions in regards to what you should and should not wash in the same load as your diapers is also more clearly defined. For example, I learned that washing flannel baby wipes with my diapers is now a big no-no. Hurumph!

I still love these diapers. I recommend them to anyone and everyone who shows an interest. But they do seem a little less user-friendly now somehow. I liked the routine I had going with washing. Air drying throws a tiny crimp in that timing-wise. But I like tabs that stick even better, so I'll play along.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Want to know the truth? Summer has depressed the yeehaw out of me for the past four years or so, and motivating myself to do much of anything has been a struggle that I've found myself unable to come out on top of. Something about the heat, the sun, the lush green all around me speaks to my soul and pulls me back home ... a place I doubt in my heart of hearts that I'll ever return to for more than a vacation. It's a hard thing. A painful thing. A "push-the-emotion-down-so-you-keep-it-smothered" kind of thing.

Mr. Blandings, Jo, Atticus, Logan ... they've all found soft, fertile soil for their roots here. The rain, the towering trees, the impossibly large mountains all took up residence in their very being within a few short months of calling these pastures home. I look into the eyes of my children and I see their easy familiarity with this climate and these surroundings. Their voices mimic the casual, somewhat clipped speech of the natives. Mr. Blandings sighs deep, long sighs when he pushes the window open on a clear day.

"The air here just smells good," he says, tossing his arm around my shoulder. "Better than coal dust, right?"

miss coal dust, I want to say. Coal dust and cherry blossoms and days so hot your hair is wet by the time you get back from the mailbox.

Summer: beautiful, yet blindingly bittersweet ... on both ends.

This year, the tug is not quite so intense. My feet seem more solid than they have since they last felt red clay under them. I look around and sense life, wonder and growth. And like the Lord, I can finally say "It is good."

Further proof of my slow acclimation to the Northwest has come in the guise of a small domestic project. This is the first year in a long time that I've turned my hand the gardening way. Our first summer in this clime found me plopping tomato plants into pots, scattering seeds and scratching something lovely out of the raw material of a suburban lot. After a few disasters (the growing season here is pitifully short when compared to the long, hot days of of Georgia, Kentucky or North Carolina summer) I gave up. The pots became hosts to some neglected perennials whose robustness in the face of blatant neglect is almost laughable. The flowers disappeared under the feet of our overzealous German Shepherd. And our yard spiralled into a muddy tract of nothingness that served to depress me even more.

But this summer, hope has been in the air. Not only are we looking to move to a new house with property, but our family finally (finally!) feels as if the gaps are in the process of being filled. Better yet, I am finally open to what I feel God's call has been on my life all along: more mother than writer, more wife than anything else. Life is good--and our yard reflects it.

Using directions from Pioneer Woman's blog, Mr. Blandings fashioned two little beds for me this spring. The kids and I carefully started dozens of seeds in little pots. And then, when the sun finally began to break through the gloom of a Northwestern spring, we filled the beds with our hope and our love.

It's amazing how quickly those tender young plants have grown. They sent their roots deep, drew up what they needed and fortified themselves. Soft, supple stems absorbed a few shocks, but then strengthened in their new environment. Within a short window of time, they were overrunning the area, sending out leaves and tendrils and preparing an offering of delicate blossoms.

Seeing this miracle has given me peace this spring. It has given me an optimism towards the summer months that has been sorely lacking in years past. More than that, it has given me
joy. Because even as I tend the little garden that my husband loved me enough to build, I am revisiting my past and carving out my own future. My hands may be far from the soil of home, but still ... they are fruitful. I may not have azaleas or dogwoods in my landscape, but I have a handful of square feet filled to bursting with some spinach, tomatoes and the beginnings of a bean bush or two. Bloom where you're planted, I hear a soft voice whispering. It's o.k. to set your roots.

So I'm doing it. With some sadness, yes. But mostly with joy.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

And the winner is ...


You've won the three month's curriculum from Itty Bitty Bookworm! :-) Email me at this blog's name (no spaces) at to learn how to claim your prize!

Thanks to all who entered. I'm liking this whole giveaway thing. Maybe I'll host another soon. Until then check out Karla's blog. She does a giveaway every Friday.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Adoption updates ... finally

I finally have something to say in the realm of adoption.

Praise God, nearly 16 months after placement, I received news yesterday that a preliminary termination hearing is being held at the end of July for Oliver. Birthmom is fighting to the bitter end; her last visit with Oliver was the first week of January, but she still remains firm in her conviction that she has every intention of raising him on a daily basis. There's more I could say on this matter, but I won't. I will simply sigh deeply and watch as the facts of poor Oli's life are paraded in court. I will listen in sadness as the psychiatrist outlines why Birthmom received a failing grade on her parenting and psychological exams. I will hear a litany of pleadings and petitions. And then, at the end of the day, I will turn my eyes to the Lord and wait for a judge to make a decision.

Oliver's birthfather is relinquishing custody, and our open adoption agreement is in the works. I have both sympathy and frustration for Birthdad. He is a wreck of a man, damaged by horrific abuse in his own childhood and poor choices in adulthood. When he says he never wanted to be a father, that he freely abdicates that right to someone more capable than himself, I am grateful. When he holds Oli's hand in his and says, "Bye, buddy," at the end of a visit, my heart is softened. And when he fails to show up for yet another visit, I am angry. Ours will be a complicated, tangled relationship for life. When the signatures are placed on the agreement, we will bound forever to one another through our love of one small person and that brings me a peace both terrible and beautiful and the same time.

Manolin's case continues to be as cut and dry as one finds in the world of foster-adoption. His birthmother is still under a ten year no contact order that precludes any relationship she might desire with the little man she carried and then sought to destroy. Termination paperwork has been filed and will most likely never go to court; how does one, after all, convincingly attest in a court that she can successfully parent a child she is forbidden by law to even request a photograph of? Evaluations and counseling reports aside, Birthmom is not going to regain custody of Manolin. I hope she relinquishes rights. It will be faster and less painful for all of us.

And this, dear readers, is where one finds joy in the world of foster-adoption: at the end of one relationship, there blossoms a series of others. Our family sits quietly, awaiting hearings and judgments that will make us whole. In our hearts, of course, the truth is already there. Maybe by winter the truth will have bloomed for all to see.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Giveaway on Karla's blog!

Just wanted to let you all know about a giveaway that my friend Karla is holding on her blog, Roads to Learning. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I woke up this morning with eyes bleary from seasonal allergies and a late night spent watching a Cary Grant film. ("Houseboat." It was worth it.) It was early, and Mr. Blandings had to be on the road before his normal departure time. While I lay there, waiting for the sounds that accompany my husband's morning shower (the scrape of the curtain being pulled, the water clanging through the pipes, the click of the cabinet that holds his contacts being opened) I realized that exactly one year ago I was over-the-moon thrilled because ....

I was using cloth diapers for the very first time.

My big, outrageous memory of the day involves diapers. Granted, they're still really cool and I don't for a minute regret the investment I've made in them financially or otherwise, but still. Diapers?

On this day, one year ago, Manonlin entered the world. I have no details of his birth; I don't even know what city he was delivered in. I don't know the hour, his weight or length. These are the details that will be filled in later, when the massive binder that rests on his social worker's desk is finally opened to us.

But somewhere, at some point, he was born. On this day.

I wonder sometimes what I was doing when each of my littlest boys took their first breath. Where was I? What was I doing? How could I not have known? Part of my heart was in a hospital room, being weighed, measured, swaddled. How could my day have been unremarkable?

My thoughts then invariably shift to the places where the bright, burning happiness of that little baby simply being is shadowed by the events that brought another person into our family. For Manolin, the story starts so heartbreakingly early that I know I will never pass through another summer without an ache of regret. The things you have seen and witnessed, the things done to you, dear boy ... I would take it away in an instant if I could.

But the catch-22 of adoption is that you cannot take the hurt back. Even if you could, would you want to? Because the brokenness is what leads the child to your arms. With no brokenness, there is no family. A wicked beauty, that--something like sin and the cross.

My sleepy eyes opened at last this morning when Mr. Blandings brought Manolin to me. Usually, this is the moment on a first birthday morning where I am flooded with memories of anticipation, joy and reward after hard work. Today, I felt none of that. Instead, my eyes rested on a beautiful, brown-eyed child whose DNA is as big of a mystery as the circumstances of his birth. I had nothing to do with Manolin coming into the world. His body and mine were never joined. I did not cradle his newborn head or let him coil his spindly minutes-old fingers around my thumb.

But I am the one who has been blessed to watch him learn to support his head. The one who propped him against pillows before he could sit. The one who cheered for his rolling over. The one who has shot endless hours of video of him rocketing, scooter style, across the floor after an older sibling. I am the one who has soothed his cries, coaxed his laughs and strapped him into his carseat.

There is still much to be celebrated today. Birth is only a part of it. And if anyone asks me where I was on the day that our magnificent little man reached his milestone first birthday, I can answer with confidence: I was right there, beside him. Right there, all along.