Saturday, October 31, 2009

One year later

I am totally, completely sold out for Manolin. His enormous dimples, his black curls, his big brown eyes, his croaky little man voice ... the total package melts me. I have been cross-eyed crazy over each of my kids but folks, I'll tell you a secret: if this little boy asked me to, I'd swim to the moon in a sea of cottage cheese for him. No two ways about it. He has me, hook line and sinker.

Mani's personality shines. At seventeen months, he's a bundle of giggles and belly laughs, all rolled up with puppy-dog pouts and flailing tantrums. He loves his "meeeelk" and his "nigh-nigh," and the look he gives me when he's trying to convey some very important thing that I'm just not getting is a mixture of sadness, regret, and impatience.

Toddlerhood. It's a battlefield, yes. But oh, man ... is it cute!

Manolin came to us on Oct. 31, 2008. A year ago today, I remember floating through the morning with that impending labor sensation. And then--suddenly--there was Manolin. Perfect, joyful, happy Manolin. His past was quickly receding from memory, and his future, so far as he was concerned, was pretty darn bright. He was an in-the-moment, pleasant, cuddly little ball of boyness.

I loved him from the moment his eyes met mine.

This is the truly amazing thing about God leading you to your children through adoption rather than biology: when you find them, you claim them. They become a part of you, just not the part that settles into your hip bones and presses on your bladder. And when they are ready, those children claim you.

And that's the good stuff.

Manolin has made it very clear where he stands in our family. He is never happier than when he's riding my hip, peering into the washing machine as it begins to agitate. He calls "Da-da! Da-daaaa!" every morning at precisely 6:30 a.m., announcing to the world that it's time for his daddy to come and scoop him up. He knows exactly how high he must reach to catch hold of Jo's knees and be swung up into a joyful kiss. He eyes Atticus expectantly, waiting for the ferocious tickle-fests that his oldest brother inevitably provides. He knows he can count on Logan for the patient reading of books and the rambunctious ball play that will result in Mom calling a quiet time. And he knows that Oli, his near-twin, not-quite big brother is his partner in crime for every misadventure from climbing on the coffee table to upsetting a basket of freshly folded clothes.

Manolin is ours, and we are his. Twelve months has passed, and all we need, really, is for the law to cement it.

We love you, Mani, and we celebrate God's choosing us as your forever family. Happy Gotcha' Day!

Friday, October 30, 2009


Lately I've been pondering balance. It's cropped up in a lot of areas of my life, and seems to be vital oh, just about everywhere. I love/hate it when things are like that; inescapable, like rain in Washington or mosquitoes in Georgia. Everywhere you go, there you are!

Balance is critical. It's necessary. And often, it's severely lacking.

One area where balance has been glaring at me like a garden toad refusing to budge is in the area of how I represent myself to others. I'm a fairly self-effacing gal. Pretty practical. Prone to stomping on toes just as often as I spout encouragement. Fairly optimistic. I hope that's the vibe people get from me.

I don't try to act like anything I'm not. But maybe, sometimes, I do it without realizing.

Case in point: I am very, very careful what I say about my husband and children. I believe that there are plenty of people practically waiting in line to tear down any member of my family if given half the chance; why on earth would I want to cut to the head of the line? In the course of a single day, my poor husband gets more phone calls insinuating that he's sly, wily, working for Satan, you name it, than your average guy just working to bring home a buck. He really doesn't need my help in knowing that the world is a vampire, to paraphrase some good old Smashing Pumpkins this afternoon.

The same goes of my kids. I have a four boys for goodness sakes. You know the kinds of things that people say about them: loud, noisy, unruly, rude, dirty, etc. Do they really need to overhear their mom recounting to someone just how annoying so-and-so's habit of x, y, and z are?

Huh-uh. No way.

So I'm careful what I say. I chose words that are designed to convey meaning without labeling. My husband is not a big handyman. I could point out how familiar he is or is not with the contents of our toolbox. Or I could just point out that he's more of a book learner than a doer. Works for me.

Logan can be called a firecracker, a passionate kid, a boy who is learning to harness his energies. Or I could join the snarky chorus you hear so often in the halls of the church: "My kid is driving me nuts!" No thanks. I'll go with the former over the latter.

As for my family size, I am militant about not agreeing with the people who comment about how over my head I am, no matter what kind of a day I'm having. That's just not o.k.

So you rarely (hopefully never) hear me say negative things about the people I love. And I try really hard to be pretty much the same way about my circumstances, whatever they are. God has blessed the English language with enough adjectives to cover a whole host of situations. Sometimes, though, "sucky" is the one that comes the closest. So I use it. And then I move on. Navel-gazing is not my forte.

But does all of this, when added up, make me seem somehow like a superhuman wife, mother, woman? Do people assume that because I verbalize the positive, there is no negative? Do they think I'm a walking, talking billboard for The Right Way To Do It?

I sure hope not.

I was reading Amy/Birthblessed's blog the other day and began to wonder: am I now, or have I ever been part of the lie? Has anyone looked at me and felt that I was spouting the party line of how to happily mother a houseful of kids one-handed:

The large family boosters that I knew in my young motherhood were insistent that "more children aren't expensive, you don't need all that stuff being marketed" and "you train them when they're young and by the time they're teens, they are no work at all."
I hope I haven't been lumped into that well-meaning but hard-to-live-up-to group. But I probably, inadvertently, have been.

More children are more expensive. I'm sorry, but it's the truth. I have yet to find a way to feed a family of 7 on the same budget I used to feed my family of 3 way back in the day. Yes, you can hand down clothes and things, but at some point, the knees of the jeans wear out and you can't find all of the pieces to the Rescue Heroes set. Or the children have different body types. Or they just hate blue, which was their brother's favorite color. Or they should be allowed to have their own Sparks vest, by criminy. And let's not even discuss the trivial things like the difference between paying a co-pay for one child versus the co-pays for five, or the cost of a vehicle (and fuel) that can haul a larger family.

It costs more to have a larger family. It does. I'm not whining, I'm stating it as fact.

And that bit about not having a single problem out of a well-trained child? Oh, my dears. Let me ask you something very, very personal: do you want your children to grow up as submissive automatons? Really? Think long and hard about this. Because I believe that you can train a child to first-time obedience, to absolute agreement, and to perfect behavior. Sure you can. But do you want to?

Really, it's so much easier for us as parents if our kids walk the line. But at what cost? What are we missing out on? What flame of discovery, independence, or joy might we squelch by building careful, 6 foot-walls around our children and forcing them to stay within? What blessing might God have in mind that we have trained out? Think of all of the stories of amazing Christ-followers who went against the will of their parents or authorities to do the big things.

I'm not going to make my kids so afraid to disobey me that they risk covering their ears against the will of God. And sadly, I am pretty sure I've seen that happen in some families who, outwardly, were the perfect picture of large-family harmony. I could share a heartbreaking story here about a girl who wanted to be a nurse, but was told that women didn't train for jobs outside the home, but I won't. Because you get the point and frankly, it will make me cry to think on how God could have used that lovely girl to bless countless souls.

I'm not advocating that you let your kids run amok. I'm just saying that it's o.k. to let them be kids. It's o.k. not to burden them with responsibilities and expectations beyond what they can truly handle. And it's even o.k. if they show a little spunk now and then. After all, God blessed Jacob and let him go, didn't He?

As to the second part of that lie--the bit about teens being no problem at all ... well, I've been pondering that alongside the concept of balance, too. And here's where I'm landing: is it possible that God's design for families includes some tension and strife with teens? Is it possible that it's His desire that we drop everything and tune in acutely to the needs and wants of our kids just before they leave the nest? Is it possible that this time--not the vaunted, "foundational" baby years--is perhaps the most important season of parenting of them all?

I don't know for sure. The door to the teenage years is just now swinging open for my family. But I'm wondering ... and I'm praying.

I want to be real. I want to encourage people, not through pretty words that make my life seem like something out of a Thomas Kincaide painting but through an attitude that acknowledges the beauty in everyday life and its ups and downs. I want to inspire those around me to dismiss the word's negative assumptions and embrace the true meaning behind considering it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds. I want to admit the hard stuff, and relish the truly good. I want to be real. Because in the end, that balance of good and bad is what reflects God's goodness in my life most of all.

TOS Review: My Access

I'm a writer. My husband is also a writer. It's what we
do. So it's really no surprise at all that my kids have all shown an inclination towards writing as one of their creative outlets.

I've never taken a very hard and fast approach to teaching my kids how to write. We've written stories together, played with words, composed ditties, penned poetry. Really, it's been a "whatever, whenever" kind of approach. And the kids have excelled. I can say this without too much bias because I've done my fair share of teaching in writing camps, hosting writing groups, doing roundtables and the like for kids from teens to kindergarten. When you hold my not-so-structured approach to learning to write alongside the ore traditional, methodical approach, you come out pretty close. O.k., maybe there's a little more creativity that comes out in the kids who've never been told they
can't write something. But I'm biased. There. I've admitted it.

Where my instruction falls short, though, is in the formal process of writing essays. It's true: there's a way to do it. You have to learn it. You have to have a game plan, put the bits into place, and then slog them out. There's no short-cut. And really, there's not that much in the way of creativity in the whole thing. Big bummer when most of your writing is

One other drawback? Well, imagine that you're Jo. You're 12 years old, and you're working on your 4-H essay on the assigned topic of vent disease in rabbits (do not google that--is it too gross and I won't be held responsible for what you see!). You write and you write and you write and you write. Then you ask your dad--a former prize-winning investigative journalist-- to read it over. He spends three hours dissecting the thing with you, and uses terms like "ad hominem fallacy" and "literary device" and "live sources" before handing it back and telling you what a great job you've done.

It's daunting, in other words. Really, really daunting.

Which leads me to My Access ....

It's just what we needed.

Seriously! We are a family or writers. And we've got the fiction thing down. But the rest of it? We could use a little release of pressure, guys!

My Access is perfectly customizable, perfectly adaptable, and perfectly priced--just under $100 for three children
for an entire year. I'm not exaggerating here, either--writing is assigned and assessed for ages 8-18. And you get 12 months of writing instruction. In the world of homeschool curriculum, $33 for one child's writing tools for a year is quite a steal.

I've used My Access for free with all of my kids. Logan is slightly under the age (he's still 7) but has nonetheless enjoyed the comprehension and pre-writing instruction activities included in his age group. Atticus loves the fact that it's web-based and has step-by-step instructions. And Jo admires the freedom that her level allows; she can pick topics (that I've pre-approved) from her list and work at her own pace. All three kids have liked the fact that their work is scored by an unbiased, nonjudgmental third-party that never, ever sounds personal in the editing process.

Which is, frankly, my favorite part as well. The outside support and grading has been a huge help in our family. Having My Access tell Jo that she didn't quite connect the dots in her persuasive essay on banning exotic animals as pets is a whole lot easier than me doing the same and then having to offer a hug of condolence. With this program, I get to dish out the hugs, without the kids feeling like they're being held to the standards of a professional writer.

They're just being held to standards. Period. And, from what I've seen, fairly stiff standards as well.

This program clearly isn't for everyone. Struggling writers who aren't motivated in the first place may have a difficult time connecting with a computer screen when it comes time to hash out the details of a project. Children easily distracted by busy screens may find the writing screen, in particular, difficult to focus on as they wade through a montage of buttons designed to offer as much help as possible. And I don't see a discount anywhere for people only enrolling 1 child; I could be wrong, but it looks like that $99.95 holds true for
up to three kids. Clearly, that's not as big of a deal as it is when maxing out the enrollment per subscription.

For clear, concise instruction, hassle-free, non subjective grading, and comprehensive support, you can't beat My Access. It's a high quality product.

TOS Review: Virginia Soaps and Scents

I love handmade soaps, especially those brewed up by folks with a careful eye to natural ingredients and a careful nose to the issue of potentially overpowering perfumes.

So I say, whenever you can get yourself a nice, handmade soap ...
go for it. I got several free samples from Virginia Soaps and Scents and yes, they are delightful. Nicely balanced in the texture and scent department. A pleasing lather. A clean rinse. Lovely appearance in my soap dish.

But, tucked into the sweet little review package I received were two items that
really caught my eye. The first was notable because I'd had no idea that anyone bothered to market such a thing. And the second because, well ... I was just curious. 'Nuff said.

The "Huh?" item was a Laundry Soap Kit. Yes, all of the makings of a batch of homemade laundry soap, collected in an attractive little pouch. Now, I've been mixing up batches of my own homemade laundry detergent since the days when Mr. Blandings was raking in well less than $15,000 per year to support our family. I've never considered it glamorous, saintly, or even green. In my house, it was called
necessity for years. Now it's called habit.

But I guess it's novel enough/country enough/gifty enough to package and sell. For $4.95, Virginia Soaps and Scents offers a package that will make a nice sized tub of the stuff. You could easily plop it in a decorative tub, add some towels and washcloths, and call it a very nice Housewarming gift, if you were so inclined. I wouldn't buy it for myself, though, because $4.95 buys you enough borax, washing soda, and laundry soap to churn out gobs of the stuff.

The curiosity item was a Shampoo Bar. Now, I've read all of the "No 'Poo" literature out there, but I am not brave enough to give it a go. The truth is, I just don't believe what I've read about people with oily hair (ie,
me) being able to ditch the daily washing and still maintain some semblance of non-greasiness that will allow me to have the kind of stain-free pillow cases that I've come to know and love. Add to that the whole curly hair/frizziness thing ... and you know, I'm just not ready to go there.

But a shampoo bar? Something that eliminates the whole idea of bathing my scalp in chemicals every morning? $5.50 for the equivalent of a big old bottle of shampoo? Count me in!

Day one with the shampoo bar was more than a little unnerving, I'm not going to lie. Standing in the shower, I realized right off the bat that my normal habit of running my fingers through my curls to separate them while still under the spray was just not. going. to happen. I stepped out, grabbed my t-shirt towel, and proceeded to blot and scrunch. Once again--my curls stayed stubbornly knotted, as if I had washed the whole thing several times, stripping away the natural oils.

I was pretty scared of what the final result would look like. I had thought I'd go without any product (ie, the stuff we curly-haired people rub in our said curly hair to keep it more curl than frizz), but I decided that was a bad idea. I worked a dime-sized dollop of my favorite stuff into my hair, scrunched a few times, then waited to see what the outcome would be.

About two hours later, I passed by a mirror and frowned. Yep. Those were my curls alright. But boy ... did they look scary. Normally I have nice, fat twists that just wind their way down my head. After the shampoo bar, however, I found that things were matted, tangled and otherwise
not very pretty.

This is when it occurred to me to do something I never, ever do: run my fingers through my hair, starting at the top and working my way down. When you have the kinds of curls that I do, you normally just leave them alone--the less you mess with them, the better. But this day I figured, hey, I couldn't do any worse. So I began raking my fingers through. And do you know what happened?

Perfect, soft, bouncy curls. SPROING!

I was shocked. Turns out, the shampoo bar

I have since fallen in love with the shampoo bar. It does exactly what I want it to do: cleans my hair, and leaves it manageable. Yes, I'm still putting goop in my hair. And no, I'm not washing less often that I was before. But I like the outcome, and I think that the price is right. I'm hooked.

Virginia Soaps and Scents sells all kinds of products, including a scent-free line that looks particularly appealing. The company is run by a homeschooling family with an amazing story about turning a unit study into a business. Their products are packaged beautifully (think: gifts!) and their ingredients are top-notch. Check them out!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

TOS Review: The Amazing Bible World History Timeline

Dear Amazing Bible World History Timeline,

Where have you been my whole life? Do you have any idea how much I needed you while I was attempting to piece together some form of cohesive flow from the terrible mish-mosh of historical highlights I was force-fed as a student? I'll try not to be angry, but the truth is, I feel like you were holding out on me. There was really no reason for me to re-educate myself as an adult; the information was out there. And with you, it's just so accessible! A visual spiral, lining things up right where they belong; literally slipping the reign of Nero just alongside the life of Paul, conveniently staggering the American Revolution with the one in France, overlapping Homer and King Solomon. You are brilliant.

My kids have been working on timelines of their own since they were five. But you ... you belong to me, Amazing Bible World History Timeline. Six thousand years of world history on one huge, stiff, laminated 38"x46" poster. Color coding. Fully referenced. Absurdly priced. $29.97? Don't you know you're worth so much more? Every homeschool needs you--and I don't say that lightly.

Thanks for hanging on my wall. I look forward to using you on a daily basis for oh, the rest of my life.

Mary Grace

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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Totally, outrageously humbled.

That's me today.

Folks, there are 100 people following this blog.

Now I realize, in the grand scheme of the blogosphere, that's really, really small potatoes. But to a homeschooling mom, a woman who scrapes meager scraps of each day into her writing pile, a person who gave up the dream of ever seeing her name on the tables at Barnes and Noble in favor of the bigger dream of raising a family for the glory of God ...

Well, it's a gift. A total gift.

So thank you. Thanks for taking the time to read the offerings posted here. Thank you for taking the time to comment, or forward the link to a post, or drop me an email.

I truly, truly appreciate each and every reader--even the lurkers I know nothing about. :-) I'm honored that you invest a bit of your precious time to read what I write here. I hope you read something at Books and Bairns that makes you smile, encourages you, challenges you, blesses you, or makes you think. God bless you all!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TOS Review: Sue Patrick's Workboxes

Unless you've been living under a homeschooling rock for the past year or so, you've heard of Workboxes. Of course you have! The whole concept came seemingly out of nowhere overnight, revolutionized the way many folks do school, and is now as ubiquitous as Saxon math and A Beka Language Arts.

Of course, Workboxes didn't actually come out of nowhere. They sprang from Sue Patrick's desire to find a way to home educate her autistic son, who was struggling. By tailoring a process to the specific needs of her attention-challenged child, Sue hit on an approach to homeschool organization that has pulled many homeschooling mothers from the bring of chaos in the structuring of their school days.

Prior to being selected to review this program, I knew only what I'd read on forums and blogs--and trust me, there was plenty out there. Everyone, it seemed, was trying out their own version of the Workbox structure. Some were using Sue Patrick's book and approach. Others were copycatting based on what they could cull from others. And still others were just set on fire with the concept of pulling together a cohesive system, period. They didn't care whether it was called Workboxes or Workhorses or plain old This is Where I Put Your Work.

At the heart of the Workbox program are--appropriately--boxes. Filled with assignments, activities, and hands-on educational tools, these boxes are organized by mom and utilized by the student. The idea is that mom fills the boxes, the kids systematically go through the boxes, and in the end, everyone is satisfied that all of the (ahem) boxes have been checked.

Had I not received a free copy of Sue's ebook (available for $19 on her website) to review, I would have thought that the above encapsulated the entire Workbox philosophy. It seems simple enough, after all.

But the truth is: the boxes themselves are only a small part of what makes Workboxes truly Workboxes. Sue Patrick has outlined an entire educational approach based around this mode of organization. On first blush, it seems like an offshoot of the traditional school-at-home take, but after a few days of implementing the entire program, I can honestly say that Workboxes are something completely unique. Using the Workbox approach fully is clearly a method in and of itself.

First, I must admit that our time sticking religiously to the Workbox routine as specifically outlined in Sue's book was fairly short. By day four of the "grab your box, work through it, grab another box, work through it, et. al." assembly line, my guinea pigs were chafing. Logan was the spokesperson for the group: "It's just me and these boxes!" The truth is, mothers can disconnect almost entirely when using this method, if they so choose. Please note that I'm not indicating that this is advocated or intended by Sue Patrick in any way. In fact, I think she wants parents to do the exact opposite; her book (and therefore, the approach that springs from it) assumes that students need a certain level of observation to stay on task. Parents of children who really can oversee math worksheets while reading a picture book to younger sibling might find themselves completely tuning the older kids out, however. I did this on more than one occasion. Since all of my prep work for the older kids was completely out of the way, and I knew that they'd be slogging quietly through their boxes until they hit one which required my input, I was free to throw myself completely into fantastic games with just Oliver, Manolin, and the Little People Airplane.

Which is a good thing. Except, well ... it's not how we homeschool.

(This is where I should note that Atticus, my box-checking, "just hand me an assignment and let me finish it" kid, was enthralled with the Workboxes. He completed his work in record time, as a matter of fact, and spent hours each day memorizing the Apologia Astronomy book I had tossed into one of his bins as a time-killer. He has asked repeatedly if he can be the sole Workbox adherent, even if no one else wants to do it.)

Also decidedly different for us was an odd recommendation that the kids only ask for help so many times, and only when using a little popsicle-stick sign to get your attention. I found that concept so bizarre that I admit I never even mentioned it to my brood. I did, however, give a trial run on a concept I'd read of being used in public schools recently: using sign language to ask to go to the bathroom, etc. instead of interrupting the speaker verbally. Since we're knee-deep in signing with Oliver, anyhow, that seemed to make more sense. It was true to the spirit of the book without what I saw as the subtle distancing effect that using a sign would introduce.

The kids liked it fine. And yes, it did cut down on the number of times I had to hit the brakes on The Phantom Tollbooth.

Aside from setting up the boxes (which is outlined in detail in the book), there are numerous other subtle changes that adopting the complete Workbox method will bring to your school. For many families, I can see this as being an attractive, successful approach to homeschooling. Especially large families, families with many young siblings and only a handful of school-aged kids, families with children who need the added support and accountability of the directed-handholding that working box by box can provide ... all of them will no doubt benefit by investing in this ebook and carefully applying Sue Patrick's recommendations to their schooling. Mothers who are especially prone to disorganization will also find something to inspire them here; maybe just walking toward routine is enough to justify buying the book!

For us, though, Workboxes as an overall philosophy were too restrictive. I find myself still using bits of the overall set-up (the investment in bins was well over $30 for three children ... I might as well use them!) if not the concept as a whole. And in that regard, our free review period was a success. I'm no doubt a more organized homeschooler because of the habits I had to establish in order to try this method. You can't say that's a bad thing!

Monday, October 26, 2009

How to make an ER doctor laugh

1. Arrive with freshly washed, still damp hair. This signals to everyone that you didn't have the chance to shower earlier in the day, but made it a priority for your special outing to the hospital. Go ahead and wear your ratty brown sweater, though. The clean hair cancels part of the housemarm effect.

2. Have toddler in tow. Bonus points for said toddler clearly wearing the blanket sleeper he slept in the night before.

3. Casually sling one slightly-snotty, well-loved blankie over your shoulder, and allow said toddler to nuzzle into it often. Explain to anyone who will listen that the child is just too sick right now to have his lovey ripped from his arms long enough to wash it.

4. Give anyone who asks for the specifics of this child's illness a blank stare for the two minutes it takes your brain to recall which sick kid you're being asked about.

5. Admit that yes, there are other H1N1 victims at home. Tell doctor that you feel blessed to still have two children who haven't fallen ill.

6. Ask doctor what the odds are of you and your husband not coming down with the flu.

8. Wait for stunned silence to fade. Enjoy ensuing laughter.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Homeschool Blog Awards

Nominations are now open for the annual Homeschool Blog Awards! Take a few minutes to plug in some of your favorites, then check out the nominations in November. I guarantee you'll find a blog somewhere on that list that you'll enjoy!

(Oh--and double-check the nomination rules. They've changed slightly this year, and you won't be able to nominate the same blog in more than one category.)

Is there a doctor in the house?

Were it not for that pesky little thing called illness, Atticus would make a great doctor.

He's got the mind for it, no doubt. He's analytical. Loves solving puzzles. Carries a virtual encyclopedia of very specific information around in his head. Is able to conjure just the right bit of trivial knowledge at just the right time to connect whatever dots appear before him. Can master any topic that catches his fancy to a degree I find almost startling.

One little problem: he's a germophobe.

Atticus is terrified--we're talking paralyzed--by the thought of sickness in almost any form. I am married to a slightly-reformed hypochondriac, so it's easy to look into the eyes of this next generation and see where this is going. Atticus hates colds, sniffles, fevers, diarrhea, wooziness, aches, pains, coughing ... you name it. He will do almost anything to avoid falling prey to some wayward germ. Mr. Blandings used to be fairly similar; if living with me hadn't cured him, or if raising a brood of children prone to wiping their noses on your sleeve as they passed by weren't enough, he's now traveled to enough countries where hygiene practices are somewhat different than they are in the U.S. to learn that living life in fear of microbes is really no way to go about having a good time.

But Atticus hasn't learned this lesson yet. He's still knee-deep in the germ-aversion stage of life. He can tell you the precise difference between a virus and a bacteria, as well as the differences in the way the human body works to fight off each type of invader. It's not a lack of knowledge that makes him wary. Rather, it's the having the knowledge that has made my son prone to smiling and nodding at visitors rather than hugging or (heaven forbid!) shaking hands.

Among the concessions we make to Atticus and his proclivities:

*Do not even think of asking to sip out of the glass Atticus is using. If you somehow manage to do so and he realizes it, he will turn purple, haul it to the sink, wash his hands, and get himself another glass. Post haste.

*Do not cough near Atticus. A stifled, face-in-elbow cough may be good enough for the average guy, but Atticus will still cringe, duck his head and refuse to breathe the air surrounding you for the next two minutes.

*Do not touch Atticus after changing a baby's diaper without washing your hands thoroughly. Hand sanitizer is o.k., but real soap and water, he informs us, are preferred when dealing with fecal materials. (Yes, he says "fecal.")

*Do not even think of dispensing any kind of medicine/pharmaceutical/etc. for ingestion unless you're ready to tell Atticus what it is, what it does, how it works, and why he should take it. All nonregulated substances are viewed with absolute suspicion on his behalf; you should see what I had to go through to get him to give in on Airborne.

Thankfully, my son doesn't seem to suffer from a deeper mental disturbance. He can go about in public without flinching through every cough and sniffle emitted. He can touch grocery cart handles, enjoy the toys at museums, etc., without calculating how many wee beasties are now frolicking on his fingertips.

But he will make a beeline for me as soon as he's ready to complete his activities, and patiently ask for a nice spritzing of Germ-X.

I don't mind. Really, I don't. I chalk it up to heredity, quirkiness, and the odd bit of paranoia that might someday fade. Because really, it's not that big of a deal.

Except, of course, when it is. Like today: Oli is on day 2 of what the doctors are telling us is a swine flu infection. He's feverish, disoriented, and sleeping on the couch. Which, Atticus tells me, is not such a good idea.

"He'd be more comfortable in bed," he informed me this morning, clicking his tongue in obvious disapproval.

"My bed?" I asked, wondering how I could possibly keep an eye on him all the way upstairs, sequestered on the bottom bunk in the farthest bedroom from the stairs. My room, at least, is at the top of the stairs, within shouting distance.

Aticus looked appalled. He made a strangling noise in his throat before he answered.

"Uh, no. His bed. Do you want your bed crawling with germs? Your pillow? Have you seen the amount of mucous coming from his nose?"

Please note the verbiage here: "mucous coming from his nose." Please tell me if you have a 9 year-old who substitutes "mucous coming from his nose" for the giggle-worthy term "snot." It will make me feel so much better as a mother.

Anyhow, I assured Atticus that not only was Oli staying on the couch, he was perfectly comfortable. Or at least, as comfortable as one can be with a soaring fever and the aches and pains of influenza. I dismissed him with a hug and a reminder that he was in fine health, and had nothing to fear. Atticus shrugged, then cut a very large path around the sleeping boy, lest an overzealous virus track him down and force its way down his throat.

My brilliant, odd duck little son. I do wonder, sometimes what life will hold for him. But whatever it is, wherever it is ... I do hope it's sterile. And mucous-free.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

TOS Review: Sarah's Wish

I've mentioned before how much my oldest two children like books that come in a series. Honestly, if I had a nickel for every time I had to get on line and look up an author's bibliography to see if he or she had written another book with the same characters .... well, I'd be rich.

My kids also like historical fiction. So do I. Call me nuts, but a pretty big chunk of my interest in history has come from various fictional accounts that whet my appetite just enough to lead me on a bunny trail off into the great wild yonder of the nonfiction section. The kids have inherited this addiction from me. There's just something about connecting with times and places through people that really makes history a living, breathing study of our human condition.

Combine those two hallowed elements, and you've reached the Holy Grail of literature for the Blandings kids: a historical fiction series. The only way it could get any better than this is if you threw in horses (for Jo). Or dragons (for Atticus). Or illustrations (for Logan).

But a historical fiction series--even without horses riding dragon in pictures? Come on. My kids eat this stuff up.

Which is precisely what Jo and Atticus did with my free review copy of Sarah's Wish. Set in the time of the Underground Railroad, Sarah's Wish follows a sweet 12 year-old girl who has recently lost her mother. The beginning of the book starts with high drama (Sarah's mother's passing) and continues in that vein for the entire ride, delighting adventure hounds like Atticus, while still providing the character development that Jo craves.

I found the book readable, entertaining, and fast-paced. I can't say that about many of the titles that pass for juvenile historical fiction, so take that as a high compliment. All of the best elements of historical fiction are here: detailed descriptions of setting, allusions to world events, even careful attention to prevailing attitudes of the day. The author clearly took time in fleshing out the plot, too--while the door was left open for the two sequels that followed, the story can stand alone just as easily. You get the feeling that the author wants to teach children, but he respects them at the same time. There's no pandering going on here!

The best part, of course, is that this is just the beginning. Sarah's adventures continue in other stories. To find out more, check the author's website, subcribe to his newsletter, and take a gander at the many Sarah-related things he's cooking up.

Sarah's Wish retails for $10.99. but is available on the author's website for $9.99.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Can I ask for adoption prayers?

No, not for my family. Our boys are not final, and the chances of Bee ever being an official Blandings are slim to none. I lay these things before the Lord multiple times a day, and I know that a whole host of believers does the same.

The adoption road has been rocky for our family, but there has been movement alongside the frustration. There have been developments and motions and all other manner of things slowly meandering their way to a family that can look into forever and see one another in it. We have hearings. Visa applications. Adoption agreements. These are the labor pains of a family birthed through love and law, not flesh and bone.

Not everyone has this, even on the slow motion scale that our family has become accustomed to. There are some adoptions that are simply stalled. Like a mule who has decided he will not travel a single step more, some adoptions sit on the side of the road and languish. There are many, many reasons for this; most of them are far too politically and legally complicated to even begin to outline. In the end, of course, it is the parents-in-waiting who suffer. And, most of all, the children.

Say what you will about "ripping children from their home culture" or "denying a child their biological surname," I believe that God intended for every child-- every child-- to know the love of a family. Cultural identity, knowing that you have Grandpa Bill's smile, and seeing folks with your skin color every day are great. But ultimately, the love of a family is preferable. It's God's ultimate gift and desire for all of us as we walk on His earth:

Here, beloved child. People who love you almost as much as I do.

Of course, life doesn't always work out like that. Children are mistreated. Unloved. Tragically orphaned. Born into places where to survive infancy is nothing short of a miracle in itself.

And this is where adoption becomes a gift that is separate but equal. Mirroring God's relationship with us, children can become a precious part of something greater. Some people decry adoption as a lesser thing, or even a heartless evil thrust upon a helpless child. I'm not going to argue that here. Instead, I'm simply going to offer this: show me a child who doesn't long for someone to love them. Show me a child who would trade his family for the ability to say, "I speak the language of the country I was born in."

Family matters. And children long for it. Waiting is, I think, hardest for them when an adoption hits the brakes. They know that they're awaiting the miracle that will change their lives ... but when?

In that vein, I want to do a completely unsolicited and somewhat unorthodox thing. I want to ask for prayer on behalf of people that I do not personally know, but find myself lifting up daily.

The first is Luke Holzmann, who blogs for Sonlight and has a personal blog as well. Luke and his wife Brittany have been in process with an international adoption for what probably feels to them like a lifetime. They have been matched with their children, but can't sing them songs at bedtime, bake their favorite cookies, or watch their faces light up as they witness the beauty of fall foliage. They know their names and faces, but can't yet tell you what books they love or whether they like pepperoni or pineapple on their pizza. Last Christmas came and went, and I know, know that Luke and Brittany took down their decorations and whispered in their souls, "Next year, when the tree goes up ... next year, we'll be together." But folks, Christmas is fast approaching. And Luke and Brittany don't have their kids at home. And darn it, I want them to have their kids at home. I want it almost as much as I want Bee here when December 25 rolls around, believe it or not.

The second family belongs to a blogger who has shared her heart for adoption in a way that is so raw, and so real that I some days I personally want to call her agency and tell them, "Bag it! Just get that baby home, for Pete's sake!" Melissa Lorenz and her husband, Rick, have both been personally touched by adoption; Melissa spent time in foster care as a child and was eventually adopted by her stepfather, and Rick was adopted as an infant. The Lorenz family is adopting Liza, a beautiful little girl who happens to have Down Syndrome. They've been run through the wringer that is the world of adoption paperwork, and they're just getting started. The attack on this family has been ferocious, but Melissa's spunk and drive don't ever seem to flag. I want this family to succeed. I want to read the update that says, "Liza loves her new bedroom!" and see her laughing on the pink comforter, holding a rag doll and wearing her pigtails slightly askew.

If your heart has ever been tugged at by the thought of a child who longs for a home ... if you've ever looked into the eyes of a parent who aches to hold the little one God has chosen for their family ... if you've ever been a prayer warrior at all ....

Will you commit to pray for these families this fall? Ask God to move mountains. Fight battles. And bring those children home to the parents who want to tuck them in at night. I know God can do this.

My heart's desire in posting this is simply this: by Christmas, I would love, love, love to see some movement for these families. Maybe it'll be something like money flowing into the Lorenz's account to cover the costs of adopting Liza. Or maybe it'll be something along the lines of the Holzmann's finally getting a date by which their children will be home. Maybe the walls will crumble and these families will be standing shoulder to shoulder celebrating Christ together on Christmas Day.

I don't care what it is, frankly. Small, large. Something. Anything. Just some tiny shred of hope for these families as we approach the birth of the One who came as a child so that we all might know the love of the Father.

Neither family knows that I am posting this today. No one has asked me for publicity, money, etc. This is a simple prayer request from the heart of a mother who knows what it is to wait, and to love, and to know that God's will for you holds good and wonderful things that come from the most unexpected places.

Thanks for praying.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Yesterday was my birthday. I'm now officially smack-dab in the middle of my thirties, and to be honest, it feels pretty darn good. But you know what feels best of all?

Finally, finally--after seven years of living in WA, seven years of feeling like a fish perpetually out of water, finally ...

This place? The trees, the funky artist types, the camping, the coffee, the independent spirit?

It's home.

A revelation, no less. It may not seem quite worthy of blog time to those of you who have bloomed where you're planted all along. But to those of us who've endured, struggled, and tried to cope when everything seems somehow less than what it should be ... the realization that a place has worked its way into the soft spots of your heart is nothing less than the spiritual equivalent of a banana split. With a cherry on top, even.

WA is home. It feels right. The rain, the bookstores, the sight of salmon catapulting themselves from streams. The towns that pop up out of nowhere as you round a bend in the highway. The mountains that never shed their snowy caps. The beaches that are more rock than sand. Even the air just feels right.

I wonder how long it will take me to fall in love with Nepal. :-)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

TOS Review: Good News Express from Passkeys Foundation

Writing stories for children is actually a delicate process. You'd think it was easy judging by the sheer number of books available, wouldn't you? Well, it's not. I say this because I do not write children's books. Sure, I dabble in a few little whatnots for my own kids, but to write for a larger audience of children takes a very judicious, sure hand.

And I've never been able to master that. Not so far, at least.

Truthfully, many people who have written books for children haven't quite managed to master that special skill. They've got a great idea, perhaps. A fabulous illustrator, even. But the art of placing together the simplest of words and conveying mountains of meaning, well ... that's the tricky part.

If you don't believe me, go ahead and check the shelves of your local library's kid's section. I cringe to think of all of the poorly written tales you'll find there.

Sadly, we don't expect a whole lot from literature aimed at the younger set--probably because we're so used to seeing poor examples littering the genre. Unfortunately, the free copy of The Birthday Gift, part of the Good News Express series, fits that mold. Published through the Passkeys Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to character training, this series focuses on a specific character trait in each tale. I wish that I'd had the whole set in front of me, because the single story I was able to review may have been an anomaly. Maybe it's just the rare bad apple in an otherwise great set. I don't know.

All I can say is that while I understood what was going in in this story, the four children and one other adult who read it did not. We each inferred something different from the circumstances ... and folks, that's not a good thing.

The trouble arose early on in the plot. Bramwell, a little bear, meets a friend who is poor. This little bear has no shoes--something that Bramwell takes for granted. Later on, during Bramwell's birthday party, he is given a variety of wonderful, well-chosen gifts. Instead of showing obvious gratitude, Bramwell seems slightly ... well, off.

And this is where the confusion set in.

"He's being rude!" Logan said, when he read Bramwell's somewhat dismissive thanks after one gift.

"Yikes. He hurt that girl's feelings," Jo surmised when a gift-giver rushed to explain how carefully she'd chosen something for Bramwell.

"Huh? I don't get this. What's wrong with it?" Mr. Blandings said at the story's climax, as Bramwell asked to give away the gift he'd most longed for.

I will say that great conversations ensued after the reading of this book. We dug deep into Scripture, we talked about our own character flaws and we even took the time to script out how Bramwell should have responded.

But that's not what the people who wrote this book intended. They put out a story intending to lead you to a conclusion, and it just didn't happen.

The Birthday Gift is $7.50 and comes with a high-quality music cd. A set of all four Good News Express books and cds retails for $20.

TOS Review: Guardian Angel Publishing

I wish I liked to read ebooks.

I really, really wish that I could sit at a computer screen with a child on my lap, and click the mouse to turn pages, and be happy. I wish that that experience would give me the same warm-fuzzies that I get from feeling a drowsy toddler on my lap and a 7 year-old at my side as we prop our feet on the coffee table and snuggle into the couch with a board book.

But it just doesn't.

I can read for information on screen. I can use ebooks for school purposes (workbooks, etc.), and even for planning. But for pleasure?

Can't do it.

Which is really sad, because I've been noticing that a good number of super-sweet children's stories are being put out in this format. These are generally more the kinds of books that I want in my library; books that concentrate on kindness over cool, and family over fashion. Books like those from Guardian Angel Publishing.

My family received several free eproducts to review from this publisher and while I can say that they weren't outstanding in terms of plot or polish, they were certainly the kind of inoffensive, happy books that my younger ones enjoy. The illustrations were adorable and warm, and the quality of honoring the Lord absolutely permeated each page. But while the ebook price is certainly right ($5 each), hardcopies are $10.95 + $6.95 shipping, making this a slightly pricey book for its educational and fun value.

When you factor in my dislike of ebook reading, I have to give this otherwise great product a sad thumbs down. But can I just say that I feel bad about it? I want more products like this made available, and I want to support the folks who put themselves out there to market to the kinder, gentler readership. So if you happen to be someone who really, really enjoys reading ebooks with their kids--or who can afford to print and bind ebooks that they've downloaded--please buy from Guardian Angel Publishing. They're one of the good guys. :-)

TOS Review: College Prep Genius

I remember my preparation for the SATs. Let's just say that it lived up to this product's claim: "The No Brainer Way to SAT Success." Here's what I did: after learning that you could repeat the test as many times as you chose, I decided to focus on one area at a time. I picked math first, because that's my Achilles heel. I borrowed a couple of basic math textbooks from my Algebra teacher. I looked at them for a couple of weeks; no pressure. Just grazing, as it were. I didn't go out the night before the test. I got up early enough the morning of the SAT to actually eat a reasonable breakfast. I left a little early, so that I wouldn't be stressed about being late. I brought the right kind of identification with me. I took the test. Then, after getting the first set of results back, I repeated the process, but this time with a focus on the Language Arts component. In the end, my highest scores were combined, resulting in a very respectable total that landed me a handful of exclusive scholarships, a neat pin to wear at graduation, and acceptance letters from the universities that had made my short list.

No brainer, right?

Apparently not. Because pretty much everyone I know--even the homeschoolers who balk at the idea of standardized testing for their children--subscribes to the theory that preparing for the SAT requires a whole lot more than common sense and a little review. Uh-uh. This is full-court-press territory. This is The Big Leagues. This is The Test that will forever decide the course of a person's life.

And you know what? I just don't buy that. It just doesn't fit with my overall educational methodology. In my way of thinking, a test is a test. It's a one-shot deal--not a long-range, deeper examination of the complete package. Frankly, I didn't want to go to a university that focused solely on numbers. I was far more interested in the community, the academic relationships, and the overall sense of opportunity that the school provided--and I wanted them to seek the same thing in me as a student. That fact alone may put you and I worlds apart, but hey--isn't that what makes homeschooling so darn interesting?

SAT prep is big business. Pick up your local phone directory and scan the business pages, and you're bound to come across a whole host of entries for private tutors, chain learning centers, and more that offer SAT success secrets. Every fall, a table in the media hawking area at the nearby Costco virtually groans under the weight of countless workbooks promising to improve your student's SAT scores. Some school districts even jump on the bandwagon, offering weeks of after-school classes that focus on the skills and remediation necessary to give kids a leg up as they approach the sacred SAT testing time.

Homeschoolers seem slightly less likely to hit the panic button when they see the SATs coming their way. But only slightly less. A large contingency of homeschoolers feel irreparably bound to the school district's timelines for the awarding of credits, to the standardized transcript process, and yes, to the freak-out over SAT scores. Otherwise sane parents, who have never seen the use in driving their math-aversive student beyond the minimum requirements, suddenly feel compelled to pay $600 for a weekend crash course that grounds him in the geometry he never had a use for.

People, stop the madness.

It's a test. A simple test.

It does not define your child's future. God does that. All the SAT can/will do for your child is access a base of knowledge that may (or may not) have an impact on his or her ability perform in college.

Can a particularly low score shut down a child's chances for acceptance into specific schools? Sure it can. I'm not saying that this test doesn't or shouldn't hold some weight with you and your student. But what I am urging you to consider is perspective. It's a test. A test. Not THE test. Just ... a test.

Alright. That said, what should you do if:

a) your child has had limited exposure to the concept of standardized testing and is approaching SAT age?
b) you know that your child does not test well?
c) your child has set his sights on a particularly competitive school/field that requires a higher than average score?
d) your child has anxiety about this test and would be well served by having a plan?
e) financing a university degree is going to be tight for your family, so scoring well on the PSAT is important in terms of qualifying for scholarships?

In those instances, I highly recommend College Prep Genius. For just $79, you can literally hand your child a DVD and workbook chock-full of strategies that will enhance his knowledge of what the test is about as well as giving him memorization aids that will serve as guides to the individual sections. Yes, this product is designed to pump you up for all the fabulous prizes that will be yours if you only manage to score well on The Test To End All Tests!!!! But a well-grounded parent offering a realistic perspective--coupled with the information found here-- will give any unsure teen the chance to approach the SAT armed with test-taking skills, a plan of attack, and a healthy dose of "I did my best."

College Prep Genius offers specific skill-enhancers, catchy memorization techniques, and straight-forward advice on trouble spots. The teacher's guide is well-written and complete enough to be handed straight to the test-taker and used as a self-teaching course. But since this program comes with a DVD, I don't think that will be necessary. Pop that in and let the kids learn from the pros. The workbook is thorough and exhaustive; completing it will leave any child ready for the real thing. It also has the same, "official" feel that you'd expect of the actual test. By recreating the proctored environment in the home, you can easily use this course for a number of trial-runs.

Again, I'm not a huge fan of slavish SAT prep. But I do believe that this course offers a nice balance. Using it at your own pace, with a balanced view towards how important the SAT is or isn't, you can have something of the best of both worlds. Plus, the price is right; most tutoring courses run into the hundreds of dollars, and offer far less than what you're getting here. When you factor in the ability to re-use these materials with subsequent children, you're truly getting a deal.

So get your college-bound kids ready for the SAT. But do it with sanity. And for goodness sake ... please don't freak out. :-)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

You're Gonna Miss This

Looking at Jo this morning was like looking in the mirror 23 years ago. So many plans. So many dreams. So much longing to move on. To get there. To live it.

To finally, finally do all of the things that she knows in her heart of hearts that she can't wait to have, to do, and to be.


My baby girl is just like her Momma, the girl who announced to her startled date that he was The One just a month into the courtship. The young lady who plotted out the trajectory of her academic career with such precision that it amazed even the jaded counselors who tried to hold her back. The woman who knew exactly what month she wanted to have her next baby born in, not to mention the year.

And you know, it's not a bad thing, this dreaming. It's not bad to look ahead and smile in anticipation, knowing that what's coming is good. It's not bad to long for the experiences that will, in the end, bring you more joy than you've ever known could exist.

But what you've got right now, why ... that's just as good. Don't forget it, Jo. These are some good times. Twelve is a beautiful age. Not quite a woman, no longer a little girl. Responsibilities, yes ... but freedom the likes of which you'll never know again.

So take a good look around. Snap a photo in that razor-sharp mind of yours, and hide it away. You're going to miss this. Enjoy it while it lasts, Jo.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I think Atticus was four years old the first time I realized how powerful the bond that exists between brothers can be. We were at church, I was teaching, and the kids were in craft clean-up mode. A little line was snaking from the bathroom sink, out into the classroom, where I was busily tidying up and readying for our next project. Suddenly I heard a commotion. Scolding myself under my breath for not keeping a closer tab on the bathroom queue, I popped my head in to assess the goings on.

To my utter amazement, it was my boys in the midst of the foray. My boys: two and a half and four and a half years old, respectively. They were back to back, fists flying, eyes mere slits, and mouths smirking as they dodged hits and administered their own punches.

I was appalled. Absolutely, drop-dead appalled. Even when I was able to untangle the threads that led to the skirmish (another child called Atticus a name), even when I understood that one of them was protecting the other in his own fists-before-figuring kind of way, well ... I couldn't shake the image. My babies, my boys, backs pressed against one another, taking on all comers in an out-and-out brawl. And enjoying it.

It was unnerving, to say the least.

I remember at the time explaining my horror to my father. Frankly, he didn't make the whole situation any better. After he finished wiping the tears of laughter from his cheeks and asking me to describe the set of their jaws for the fifth time, he offered this wisdom:

"That's what brothers do. Sometimes you get so mad you just want to kick his tail up and down the road to prove you can. But Lord forbid anyone else should take a go at him, because you're just going to lay him out cold. No questions asked."

My father knows what he's talking about: he is older than his twin brother by 15 minutes. In infancy, they slept curled together in a bureau drawer set on the floor by my grandparents' mattress. As they grew, they wore the same clothes, smiled at the same girls, and were never more than a shoulder apart from one another. It took my uncle being drafted in the Vietnam War to separate them for the first time; now at age 60, The Brothers, as they're collectively known, live with their wives on 35 shared acres just outside their hometown. Their houses are literally a shout away from one another, and they are slowly driving their women insane as they putter about together in their pre-retirement farming efforts.

After seeing that first violent act of loyalty between my two oldest boys, I admit that I began to question the rough-edged love that brothers seem to have for one another. It's an almost primal thing, from what I can tell. There is love, yes ... but it is mixed with an ever-present need to communicate one's status, gifts, or power. It is a love conveyed with punches and too-tight hugs. It's something that I--as a woman, and most especially as a mother--just can't fathom.

Five years later, I believe that I am beginning to see the unfolding of the relationship that exists between Atticus and Logan. They are still quite young--just 9 and 7-- but yes, they are strong friends. I can not say that they are best friends because, in truth, Atticus and Jo are my peas in a pod. But between Atticus and Logan, something else exists. Something else entirely. Something that is rough and ugly, yes--something that occasionally precipitates the need for a good hard shove, or for a kick to the shin, apparently. But it's something beautiful, too. Something warm and protective and willing to sacrifice to ensure the others' happiness and joy.

Something strong.

I was talking to my father on the phone yesterday and heard a metal chair scrape across the concrete patio slab. There was no vocal acknowledgment on my dad's behalf, but this much I knew: his brother had just come over to sit a while.

"Uncle Harlan there?" I asked.

"Yeah," Dad answered.

I looked over at my two big boys, playing Lincoln Logs on the floor, competing to build the biggest line of log cannons to line up behind their little green soldiers. I pictured them, 50 + years from now, sharing a Coke under a patio umbrella after having put in a nice winter cover crop on their fields.

"Sure is nice for you to be able to spend so much time together," I said. And, without warning, my mind was going over the family news of the day: Mr. Blanding's cousins, 25 and 24 year-old brothers, had just signed their letters of intent with the Marines. After having gone to college together, living in the same apartment, having the same friends, they were embarking on their next adventure. Together, of course.

"Mr. Blanding's cousins are joining the Marines together," I told my dad. "They just finished college. I've been wondering how their mother must feel," I blurted.

My dad paused, taking a pull off of his Coke, remembering 1969--the year his brother took his first-ever airplane trip and found himself in Southeast Asia with a gun in his hands while my father, alone for the first time, wandered aimlessly over a landscape of hippies and draft dodgers.

Finally, my father told me this: "I can't tell you how their mother feels. I bet she feels pretty bad, to be honest. But I can tell you how those boys feel. They know there's nothing worse than knowing your brother's in a fight and you don't have his back."

The picture of Atticus and Logan, all those years ago, clawing their way to victory rose up in my mind, and for the first time, I saw something redemptive in it. Not in the fight itself, of course; I'm not a fan of fisticuffs whatever form it takes. But the emotion behind the act ... therein lies the beauty.

They love one another.

Yes, it is a love that has less softness than grit. And yes, it is a love replete with gentle egging and more than a few taunts. But it is love. Brotherly love. Love that will bare its teeth, fight, sacrifice. Love that will, no doubt, drive me crazy mad as the years go on. But love nonetheless. Love that has one another's back.

TOS Review: Nature Friend Magazine

I've had pretty fair success finding somewhat decent magazines for preschoolers over the years. Sweet little puzzle magazines, simple story magazines, things like that. But once the kids reached school-age, it became a whole other story.

Most magazines for children dig into the issues that are first and foremost on the minds of the masses. There are plenty of literary magazines out there for kids ... as long as you don't mind the fact that a good portion of the stories may revolve around topics that many a Christian parent would flinch at. There are plenty of pop culture magazines out there ... as long as you don't mind the fact that a good portion of the ads will be bordering on inappropriate. And, of course, there are plenty of animal magazines out there ... as long as you don't mind that most of the content will have an anti-Creation slant that leaves you playing "counter the theories" after each issue hits your doorstep.

Into this void comes Nature Friend Magazine, a sweetly-written, beautifully photographed glossy magazine that brings a Creationist perspective to children of all ages. This magazine is lovely; the photography is visually stunning, and the design and layout are clean and appealing. My older children were amazed with the images captured in each of our free sample issues: an owl, mid-swoop, or a bird, dangling daintily as he built his nest. The colors were vibrant, the situations fascinating, and the themes engaging.

The articles were informative but not horribly entertaining; the lure, my kids said, was seeing the images, then digging out one of our animal encyclopedias and learning more. I'm not sure that this is a huge selling point--a magazine that children find less engaging than an encyclopedia? Or maybe it says more about my own family--we do, after all, tend to find the seed of an idea and follow it to the deeper kernel of knowledge we're looking for.

The drawback? Nature Friend Magazine costs $36 for a year's subscription. That's just 12 issues of a fairly thin magazine for a fairly hefty price. The bigger drawback? On closer inspection, I realized that my free review issues contained 8 pages of study guide each; the study guides aren't included in the subscription price, either. To receive what I actually thought was the "meat" of the magazine, you'd have to pay an additional $24 per year. Grand total: $60 for 12 issues of an animal-themed kids magazine. That's a little rich for my blood. (Please note that the reason the magazine is so expensive is that it does not sell outside advertising. That means that there is no ad content on the pages your child sees!)

Yes--Nature Friend Magazine is beautiful. It features some of the most stunning animal photography I've seen in a while--even when compared to animal magazines designed for the adult market. But the majority of the text, puzzles, learn-to-draw, and other educational elements aren't part of the main package. Without purchasing the study guide, you're left with a slim, but pretty, handful of pages of amazing nature photographs at a high price. Most homeschoolers I know just can't swing that.