Monday, November 30, 2009
Truthfully, Mr. Blandings and I have caused such furor before. We have, after all, simply refused to live the kind of lives that fit into safe, tidy boxes. We were the couple that stomped and fumed over the location of our wedding (we gave in on that one). We were the thoughtless ones who got pregnant six months after said wedding. We were the malcontents who left the Catholic Church. We are the black sheep who decided to homeschool. We are the callous branch of the tree that lives thousands of miles away.
All in all, we cause heartache. And wailing. And yes, gnashing of teeth.
Madame Blandings, mother of my Mr. Blandings, has never quite forgiven us for causing her worry. I can't help but picture her wringing her hands from time to time, fretting over what we might do next. One income. No cable television. Adoption from foster care. International travel without an air conditioned tour bus. No prom for Jo. Dear Lord, help them help themselves!
I'm not sure where Madame Blandings went wrong, but her parenting efforts did not turn out a successful lawyer who spends long winter weekends skiing with his 1.5 children and rail-thin, doctor of wife. Instead, her oldest son drives a beater Volvo every day after kissing his wife good-bye and passing his hand in blessing over a rabble of children whose idea of snow fun is lashing salvaged bits of 2x4 from our discard wood pile out back to their rain boots.
Mothers worry. We know this down in our bones; The price of holding a child to your neck and feeling his breathing gradually fall into step with your own is to have your heart intertwined with his forever. You will sit up on feverish nights and pray sickness away. You will wince at hurts real and perceived. You will grieve the losses and dance in the victories. Forever, you will want the best for this little soul entrusted to your care.
But let's be honest--some children worry us more than others. They touch our softest, deepest heart-places and we link with that need in an almost primal way. Quite often, these are the selfsame children who seem programmed--almost from the moment they take their first breath--to chafe and kick against the very emotions that we ourselves can not help but lay over them like warm blankets on crisp nights. Why, Lord, why?
You may have a child like this in your own heart and home. Unabashedly independent, yet still so tender. Curious, but somehow nervous, as if his own explorations might bring him to a place where the whole applecart of his tenuous little being might be upended. Needy. Passionate. Unique.
I have one of these children myself, so I completely understand what Mr. Blandings' favorite aunt told me about his childhood one afternoon shortly before we were married:
"You have to understand, Mary Grace--the very first step Mr. Blandings ever took was a step away from his mother. She wanted to keep him so close, but all he ever did was go beyond her, getting into all kinds of trouble. I don't think she's ever forgiven him for that."
She hasn't. Her son, my husband, is still the little boy who will not behave. He is still escaping from his play-pen, straying into the unsafe places, and finding ways to vex her ... when all she's trying to do is make him happy.
Because surely, if anyone knows the key to a child's happiness, it's his mother, right? I know that I ascribe to this theory. Try this, you'll like it. Read this book, you'll enjoy it. You will tire of that sport, dear. Wear your coat, you'll get cold. How different is this from telling your son he should move back to the city he called home 20 years ago--the city where you still live? How much more peaceful is it to be the mother of children--even adult children--who are accounted for day and night? Who are financially secure? Who have all they could ever ask for? Whose lives are as easy and comfortable as you could ever ask?
While discussing Nepal, Madame Blandings said that we could not understand the kind of pain we have inflicted on her, and I agree. I don't know what it's like to wonder if my son is working, sleep-addled and exhausted, through yet another overtime shift to pay for Christmas gifts this year. I don't have to wonder if my boys are taking eating well, if they are adored as they ought to be, or if they are just a paycheck to a selfish woman who is too lazy to pull her own weight. I'm not there yet. But yes, I am treasuring all of these things up in my heart. Someday, after all, I will be the mother of boys who are no longer boys, but men.
The parting shot in our painful conversation with the elder Blandings' was this--
Tears in her voice, a tinge of anger seeping through, Madame Blandings addressed me, specifically.
"I hope you never go through this, Mary Grace. I hope you never know what it's like to have your kids scattering all over the earth and not even know whose hands they are in."
And this, I think, is the thing I am treasuring up the most.
Because I'll be honest, my heart leaps with delight at the thought of three, five, seven Blandings clans popping up in the hardest-to-reach areas of the globe. My heart mourns the missed Christmases and the birthdays without cupcakes, yes. But on a larger scale, I admit that I dream of being the kind of woman who God uses to multiply not just through biology, but throughout His Kingdom in a mighty movement of seed-planting.
I know in whose hands I have placed my children. And trust me, they are far better off with Him than they would ever be in the safe boxes which I might construct for them.
My prayer is that I can keep this momentum, that my heart stays fixed on this desire. Even as my children grown, and their leashes get longer and longer, and the stakes for their hearts just creep higher ... Lord, never let me forget that risks taken in Your Name are to be applauded, not run through a cost-benefit analysis. Let me grit my teeth through the feats of faith that You might lead my children through as You use them for Your purposes. Let me be the first one to step up in prayer and practice.
And most of all, Lord Jesus, let me never value safe above saved. Especially not when it comes to my own beloved children.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
And in the midst of all of the blessing and giving of thanks, it is so easy to forget the One to whom all thanks should be directed.
It is easy to forget the greatest gift of all:
I am a beloved child of the Most High God.
Give thanks with me.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The best part of reviewing things, in my humble opinion, is passing along true gems that might get overlooked in the homeschooling world. Yes, yes, I get free stuff. And don't get me wrong, that's very cool. But the number one thing that keeps me writing reviews is being able to try something that I immediately want to rush out and buy for everyone I know.
This game is one of those items.
Life on the Farm is a Blandings family game, through and through. It is a classic ... and I've only had it for a month and half. Already, it's in our normal game rotation. I think it's even edging out Horseopoly, but Jo hasn't noticed, so we don't have a mutiny on our hands. (Yet.)
This is the kind of game that makes your kids laugh, starts fabulous discussions, can be played as individuals or teams, and requires some good old strategy skills. Before opening the box, Atticus predicted that it would be "Monopoly ... with cows." Turns out he was kind of right. Life on the Farm is what happens when the little plastic people from The Game of Life get out of the car, snatch the Monopoly money, and settle down on a family homestead. With dice.
You get sent to the back 40. You collect a milk check. Your cattle get sick. Taxes come due. Equipment needs to be repaired. And in the end, you retire.
All without getting your hands dirty. Nice, huh?
The game is $25 and would make a fabulous addition to any family's collection. Younger children (say, under 7) can easily buddy up with older siblings or a parent to play. There's high interest for adults, too; This is not a game you will endure, mom. You will enjoy it. Really!
The game is available through the family who created it, at some specialty stores, and at Kmart.com. (where it's currently listed at $19.99). It would make a great family gift for yourself, or for giving.
Monday, November 23, 2009
I ran into a friend at the library today. She had a grande something-yummy-with-whip in her left hand, and in her right hand were three of the novels that have been on my "to read" list for so long that I had even forgotten to put them into my Paberbackswap wishlist. She'd just come from getting her hair done, she said--and indeed, her hair looked as fresh and springy as the very hip dress boots she was sporting.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
But inside our little home, it's warm, and cozy. The fireplace is humming. Books are being read. Scarves are being knit. Children are laughing. Cookies are being nibbled.
Yeah. I'm blessed.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The little bits that I know about Oliver's life before "coming into care" (as we say in the fostering world) come from a stack of medical files that I never should have been given. A social worker plopped them in my lap at a case meeting, and I realized right away what a gold mine I'd been given. Pages and pages and pages of completely irrelevant, minuscule details about Oli's physical state from birth to 7 months of age. I probably should have handed them right back. But I didn't. I held onto them. And in a quiet moment alone, I pored over them with a fine tooth comb, holding my heart in my throat as I stared into the dark little places where I had not been able to kiss boo-boos or soothe tears.
Oliver's birthparents, like the mother in Danielle's blog post, had a habit of literally dropping him in the ER. When his life was still numbered in weeks, he was deposited, like so much spare change, in the repository of institutional care that the hospital offered. The careful, professional notes made by countless nurses/angels who watched over him pierce my soul anew every time I ponder them:
"Mother contacted by phone and advised of patient's status. Mother asked that she not be called again until her son was ready to be discharged."
"Father visited baby for forty minutes, and spent the entire time playing with his cell phone. Was not interested in interacting with baby."
"Mother said patient had been vomiting for three hours. Left immediately after child admitted."
I read these things, and they make me mad. I'd like to think it's a righteous anger. I picture Oli, skin and bones, swimming in a cage-like hospital bed, hooked to tubes and monitors. I imagine sweet, soft-faced nurses leaning over him and whispering, "It's o.k., baby. You're all right." I pray that he heard these gentle words, and that they took root in his tiny soul.
I hope beyond hope that someone, anyone, took the time to hold him. In the rush of the night, in the chaos of the job ... I pray that a few moments were stolen where Oli's head rested on a loving shoulder, and that he felt hands that brought soothing comfort in the midst of it all. I pray that someone took the prompting to be God's hands, even as He was pouring out His heart for that hurt, sick little boy.
Some day, I hope to meet the angels God placed in Oli's path as he journeyed to us. I'd love to wrap my arms around the men and women who took note, the ones who saw wrong and wanted to make it right. I want to thank them for standing up and being counted. I want to thank them for my son's life.
Maybe I'll meet them here, in this life. Maybe I will meet them in heaven.
God places people in our path every day who make a difference. Maybe it's the person who does the obvious: the doctor who admits the broken baby to the hospital, calls Child Protective Services, and files a report. Sometimes it's the people we don't even notice, though. The person who bags the bread on top, so it doesn't get crushed. The elderly lady at the library who smiles and pats our back, telling us how it blesses her to see such a beautiful family.
God's hand is in all of it. HE IS PRESENT. Don't doubt it for a minute.
Our God is in the business of healing, rescuing, and restoring. He is a just and mighty god. And yet ... He cares even for the tiniest among us. The forgotten. The babies whose parents can't even be bothered to set foot in their child's hospital room.
He is there. Let us not forget.
"At that time," declares the LORD, "I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they will be my people."
This is what the LORD says:
"The people who survive the sword
will find favor in the desert;
I will come to give rest to Israel."
The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:
"I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with loving-kindness.
I will build you up again
and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel.
Again you will take up your tambourines
and go out to dance with the joyful.
Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.
There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
'Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the LORD our God.' "
This is what the LORD says:
"Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
'O LORD, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.'
See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.
They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel's father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.
"Hear the word of the LORD, O nations;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
'He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.'
For the LORD will ransom Jacob
and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.
They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD—
the grain, the new wine and the oil,
the young of the flocks and herds.
They will be like a well-watered garden,
and they will sorrow no more.
Then maidens will dance and be glad,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
I will satisfy the priests with abundance,
and my people will be filled with my bounty,"
declares the LORD.
This is what the LORD says:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more."
This is what the LORD says:So there is hope for your future,"
"Restrain your voice from weeping
and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,"
declares the LORD.
"They will return from the land of the enemy.
declares the LORD.
I read the back of the dvd box to them as Jo popped the disc into the player.
"It says it's multi-sensory learning ... helps you retain math concepts ... a whole lot of those basic skills ... things you really need to know ... and you get to move a lot! Won't that be cool?"
Logan eyed the television skeptically as cheerful, upbeat children began a follow-the-leader type exercise routine with a mathematically-inspired flair.
"Can you make your body into the shape of a square?" the mom on screen asked her bevy of wide-eyed, adoring, and enthusiastic kids as they began a new concept.
"No, I can't," Atticus answered.
I tried to play along, feigning excitement with the grating cheer of it all. I got down on the floor and pulled Oliver onto my lap, which is when I noticed ...
He loved it. Absolutely thought it was the greatest thing since the Wiggles. I'm not joking. He happily moved along with the older kids on the screen, and bobbed his head to the beat. I don't think he's any closer to knowing how triangles are constructed but hey, he had fun for half an hour.
So apparently, even though the folks at Gymathtics think they have a 2nd-5th grade math product on their hands, what they're really selling is a $24.99 educational/exercise program for preschoolers.
Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Not very often ... but sometimes. Usually it's because before my eyes even open, my brain is already rattling through a whole list of things that I need to get done.
Gosh, I hate that.
But it happened to me this morning.
First thing in the morning--6 a.m., bright and early--my eyes slid open and BOOM! There was my to-do list. It was almost as if it was written on the ceiling, it was that clear.
At-home therapy appointment for Oliver. (ugh)
Phone call with birthparents. (sigh)
Check in on my mom, who just had surgery. (ugh)
Schedule Manolin's 18 month check-up. (do I have to?)
Oliver's speech assessment. (whine)
Atticus to Karate. (ugh)
And on and on. You get the point.
So my attitude was poor from the get-go. And yes, I had a bad day. And the thing was, I knew I was having a bad day because I was in a bad mood. I just couldn't seem to do anything about it.
I hate that. I hate it when my brain can't seem to shake the general yuck and grab onto some joy. I want to give thanks in all circumstances. But the truth is ... sometimes I whine. Sometimes I whine a lot.
And today I was the Queen of Whine. School barely got done. I checked off my to-do list but, buddy, I was not happy about it. I even got two really cool boxes of books that did nothing for me.
But tomorrow ... tomorrow I'm going to wash that grey right out of my hair. I've decided that it's a no-whine zone. I'm going to be happy.
Because just like I decided today that I was going to be in a foul m odd, I figure I can decide that tomorrow is shiny happy day. Why not? I'll let you know if it works.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Today's little tutorial features Jo making gifts for her friends. If you or your daughter is likely to be on Jo's gift list, please do my girl a favor and keep this dark, o.k.? She's really excited about her little craft spree, and if her mom managed to ruin the surprise factor with her blog, of all things ... well, it would be drama. ((insert eye roll here)) And the last thing a 12 year-old girl needs is more drama.
O.k., on to the gift ....
When Jo saw the link to the elastic bookmarks, she was smitten. And why not? It's truly the ultimate gift for a homeschooled pre-teen--at least most of the ones we know. I was planning on making some of these as well, but Jo wanted to dive right in so I handed the reins to her. We went to our local craft shop, got some simple supplies, and tried it out. Turns out, they're so easy that you really have to make half dozen of the things in order to fill up any time at all. Really. They're that easy. But don't take my word for it. I've got pictures to prove it.
charms (Jo bought nice ones at $9.99 for a pack of three. Most were far cheaper, but it was her money so hey, buy what you want kid!)
elastic cording ($1.79 for enough to make a dozen or so bookmarks)
optional: jump rings (if your charms didn't come with them) Does the charm face forward on a string? If so, it doesn't need a jump ring.
And away we go---
1. Measure and cut about 15 inches of elastic cording.
2. Slide on a charm.
3. Knot the cording just above the charm.
4. Knot the loose ends at the top. Trim to even the cording.
5. You made a bookmark! Simply slide it around the book and enjoy.
I told you it was easy. It's also überpractical and cute to boot! Who wouldn't want one of these?
Friday, November 13, 2009
Do you ever notice that the one person who seems to zero in on all of your faults, the one person who gleefully calls you on the mat, the one person who nags you when you stumble is ...
Yeah, it's like that for me, too. I am my own harshest critic. I am the one who points out my shortcomings, who sighs dejectedly when goals are not met, who brings out the wet noodle when things go undone. I am the one who sees that the floor has not been vacuumed. I am the one who tells guests at the front door to please excuse the fact that I have a living room overrun with small plastic whatnots. I am the one who sees the science book lying there, untouched, and chastise myself for failing to make time. Again.
I strive to be the perfect wife, mother, and homeschooler. Of course, I can't be any of those things perfectly. I'm lucky to even be a good wife to my deserving husband, a passable mother to my fabulous kids, and the kind of teacher that I want to be. I constantly walk around with the knowledge that life is a delicate balance. Ample portions must be placed neatly on each platter. This one is for my husband: I'll give him time, encouragement, love, support, respect, and a house that he will be proud to come home to at night. This one is for my children: I'll give them love, cuddles, discipline, gentle words, security, joy, and fun. This one is for my role as a homeschooler: here I place my self-discipline, my creativity, my intellect, the flames of curiosity, and all the patience I can muster.
All it takes it one slight nudge in any direction for everything to swing out of balance. Too much in the way of fun for the kids, and the self-discipline needed to accomplish those school goals can fly out the window. Too much time invested in helping my husband with the practical stuff, and I might just have to shuffle my kids off in front of the television for a half hour. And wait just one doggone minute here! Where's my plate?!?!
It's a balance. It's hard work. And it's heart work.
I really need to give myself more leeway and grace. I need to make sure I'm in line with God's will, and trust that the rest will follow. I need to tune into Him, and trust that He will provide the details as I move to be the woman He wants me to be.
If only I could quiet that nagging voice. "You're doing it wrong. So-and-so is so much better at that than you are. Are you sure you're cut out for this?"
And here's where I'm going to cut to the chase and throw open the doors to my heart:
Sometimes, the voice I hear isn't my own. Sometimes that voice belongs to my fellow homeschooling moms.
At some point, somewhere along the journey, many of us begin to feel like we've figured it out. We hit our stride (even if it's just for a season), and things are working well. Our husbands are madly in love with us and delight in our every word. Our children are impeccably behaved, cute as buttons, and geniuses to boot. Homeschooling is a joy, and we can't wait to begin each day's adventure in education.
And we start to think that we have discovered the secret. You know--The Way To Do It.
So, of course, we tell others.
We pass on tips on homemaking, housekeeping, being the perfect wife, child training, selecting curriculum, selecting a church, you name it. We rattle off reading lists, mention specific scriptures, talk about speakers we've heard. But instead of simply offering granule of life experience, we add a small caveat to our gleanings. It's usually completely unspoken, but it's there. It's judgement.
If you don't wear dresses all the time, you're not conservative enough.
If you don't have a dozen kids, you're not a good enough mother.
If you don't joyfully submit to your husband 100%, you're not a good enough wife.
If you don't wake up at 4 a.m. for a 2 hour prayer-time, you're not a good enough Christian.
If you don't do school for six hours a day, you're not a good enough homeschooler.
"Did you see how her son acted at co-op? Awful. You know, I'm so glad that we have a first-time obedience policy. My kids never act that way, because they know we mean business."
"I heard they're having marital problems. If she would just stop trying to run the family, they'd be fine."
"I doubt they even actually homeschool at all. They seem to be involved in every activity coming and going."
For some reason, homeschooling and legalism seem to walk hand in hand quite often. And the truth is, legalism is appealing. It seems to offer the one charted course that leads to the safe, soft-focus destination called Perfection. There are rules and order in legalism. There are Scriptures with very definitive takes on very specific things. There are clear-cut right ways and clear-cut wrong ways. Go this way and it will all turn out. Veer off course and-- you're told--you'll hit the rocks. And really, who doesn't want a guide book that promises to make everything in your life turn out just so?
I have struggled with legalism. I have looked at my own life, with it's bruised apple spots, and thought that maybe the answer could be found in a certain attitude toward my husband, or a particular form of femininity. I have watched as my children have grown, and I have feared life's ups and downs for them, wondering if perhaps erecting certain fences in our family might spare them from future pain.
For a season, those things seem to bear fruit. And then, invariably, I hear that still, small voice asking me the question that never fails to bring my carefully constructed perfection crumbling down:
What about grace?
What about grace, indeed? Pursuing righteousness and holiness is a noble and good task. Bathing your family in the goodness of God, instructing your children in His words, being in the world but not of it ... these are all things that the Lord commands us to do.
But He also asks one other thing of us as we walk the path that leads, ultimately, to His mansion for us:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. --1 Thessalonians 5:11
My fellow homeschoolers, we all fight the feelings of defeat and insufficiency that lead us to look at our days and wonder why God chose us. Please, instead of adding to that chorus of pain with more baggage and assumptions, can't we instead give a good report of one another? Can't we look at the harried mom of two kids who is trying to make it work and pat her on the back without pointing out that we have six kids and are getting by just fine? Can't we quit turning up our noses at the wife whose husband has no interest in being a leader of anything, let alone their home? Can't we drop the co-op dress codes that make it seem as if Jesus wouldn't be caught dead in a room devoid of denim jumpers?
Can't we extend grace?
Because frankly, we need it. We need it from ourselves, we need it from our friends and, most of all, we need it from God. The thing is--the Lord offers it new every morning. It's the rest of us who haven't gotten the memo.
I'm working on grace right now--for myself and for those around me. I'm praying that God gives me His eyes, and His love. And maybe, maybe ... just a little bit of His grace and mercy to pass around.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
CUP KEEPERS! It's a craft! A potential Christmas gift! And a large family organization tool ... all in one!
What on earth is a Cup Keeper Charm, you ask yourself? It's my answer to the endless frustration of trying to fit half a bazillion little plastic cups into the top rack of the dishwasher. It's my way of stopping the bickering over who had what cup before it even starts. And, most importantly, it's my way of never, ever having to say, "Who had the Red Robin cup? Old Spaghetti Factory? Come on, guys ... think!" again.
The sheer joy of it!
Several years ago, I decided to commit to the color coding scheme for my growing brood. Everyone was assigned a color: Jo is purple. Atticus is blue. Logan is green. Oliver is orange. Manolin is yellow. There, easy enough. Now all I had to do was locate cups and plates in these colors, and we were good to go.
I found the necessary items, set out the rules ("Use your color.") and went about my business. Cracks began to show right away, however. Sometimes the plates were in the dishwasher. What to do then? And the cups were too tall for the table, really; nary a meal seemed to pass when someone wasn't accidentally toppling over a cup they'd filled too full of water. It was a great system, but one that didn't really work for us. So I slowly abandoned it, and we went back to trying to jam the 50 cups a day that my kids seemed to go through into the dishwasher.
Ugh. Back to square one.
Then it occurred to me: several years ago, my mother had purchased a set of wine charms for Mr. Blandings and I. In case you don't know what a wine charm is, it's a small wire loop decorated with beads or charms that helps guests claim their glass in a sea of look-alike stems. These were a pre-kids gift, and one that we used on fancy occasions. But for the most part, there they were--a dozen or so little loops, just waiting to be attached to the delicate stem of a wine glass. But what if---?
I grabbed one, snapped it onto the handle of one of our little tin cups (favorites of the kids) and sighed happily. YES--they worked perfectly. With almost no effort, the cup was labeled and claimed for an entire day by one person. Praise God for the little things, I tell you!
I immediately divested our shelves of anything bearing dancing birds, happy trains or other corporate logos. I filled the kids in on my plans, brought out all of the camping cups, and never looked back.
Our Cup Keeper Charms all feature various world monuments. Each one is different; it's a close-your-eyes-and-draw surprise every morning to see who gets to go visit what amazing site for the day. The kids easily remember who has what charm, and we never have to do a roll call on abandoned cups left on the table. Here's the Taj Mahal:
As you can see, it's a very, very simple little thing. Just a loop, a couple of beads, and a charm. You can also easily make them without charms--just adding a single colored bead would be enough to mark a cup. As a matter of fact, Oli uses a Cup Keeper with just one bead as a way of learning his colors. Today, he's BLUE. Tomorrow, he might be GREEN. He thinks this is very, very cool.
These work with any cup that has a handle, so there's no need to go out and buy a whole new set of mugs just to use this little system. That might make a nice touch if you're making some to be gifted, however. I have a family in mind for a set this Christmas, and I'm planning a jaunt to Ikea for some plain but pretty mugs to fill with goodies, then we'll be presenting each child with a Cup Keeper as part of his/her gift.
Here's what you need:
Charms (ours were $3.99 for a dozen)
Jewelry Hoops ($1.29 for a dozen)
Double rings ($1.99 for three dozen), if needed
Beads (we had some already)
How to do it:
If your charms don't have the kind of hole that allow them to face forward, you'll have to slide them onto the double rings first. This was actually the trickiest part, and requires you to kink them open a bit with the pliers. Once you've done that, the rest is so easy that my two year-old was able to do it. Simply open a hoop and slide a few beads, a charm, and a couple more beads onto it. Using the pliers again, bend the end of the wire hoop slightly so that the decorations don't slide off. Hook onto a cup. And that's it!
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
It's been a very good couple of weeks here for me in bloggy land. First I hit 100 followers. And today I woke up to find that Books and Bairns has been nominated in two categories in the Homeschool Blog Awards. Look for this blog under the headings for Best Homeschool Mom Blog and Best Variety. Once again, I have one of those smiles that even a stinky, baled-up soccer sock found under the couch (true story) can't faze.
Please take the time to check out the many wonderful nominees. Some of my faves are already listed, and I'm sure that I'm going to fall in love with some of the ones I haven't checked out until now as well. These awards give you a fabulous way to meet some new homeschooling friends ... right there in your computer.
Monday, November 9, 2009
I'll read anything. O.k., just about anything. Really, there are frightfully few books that I won't take a stab at. I love reading, I read quickly, and I am interested in oh, just about everything.
Case in point: two years ago I went on a huge polio kick. You know--polio? Disease that crippled and killed millions of children in the 50s? Yeah--that polio! Anyhow, I suddenly became outrageously (and annoyingly) interested in the socio-political aspects of the polio epidemic. How did it impact people's daily interaction with one another? What was it like growing up in a climate of fear as a child? How did mothers cope with the threat? What did local authorities do to keep potential hysteria in check? What went on behind the scenes on the nation's political stage? Who were the movers and the shakers?
This is the crazy stuff that I think about, people. And then, after I think about it, I hit my library, and I come home with loads and loads of reading material. I read and I digest. When I finally feel like I've gotten a handle on it, I can set the topic aside and move on.
It's kind of boring being me, as you can tell. :-)
This is the kind of random rabbit trail thought process that brought the Duggars book, "20 and Counting" to my bedside table. I was at my grandparent's house recently, where I had unfettered access to television for the first time in eons. One of the programs that my grandmother likes to watch is the TLC program on the Duggar family. Why?
"They talk about the Lord like it's o.k. to mention Him on t.v., and I like that."
There 'ya go.
So anyhow, I watched a couple of episodes of the Duggar show. Obviously I had heard of them before. I am a homeschooler. I have a couple of kids. Well, that and I don't live under a rock. The Duggars are their own little phenomena, aren't they? If you homeschool they've popped up in conversation--simply because the Duggars do it, and they're on t.v. And if you've got more than say, four kids, the Duggars are going to be thrown out there. "What, are you guys going to be like the Duggars?" And if your brand of Christianity leads you to wear dresses or something else visible, you may just hear Duggar references as you go about your life, too. They're everywhere, those Duggars.
These realizations touched off one of those polio-like wonderings in my mind, so when I returned home, I started my normal reading routine. I found websites, read articles, looked for books. And you know what I found? I think I actually like the Duggars.
Obviously, I don't personally know this family. And I'm still highly suspicious of anyone, Christian or not, who does the whole "come on in and film our lives!" thing. You want to be an actor? Wonderful! Go for it. But having someone come in and film your kids eating breakfast? Can we all just take a step back and admit that this is a weird, warping little intrusion into the life of a family? Anyhow, I digress ...
I think the Duggars are likable. That doesn't mean that I agree with every word that comes from their lips, and that doesn't mean that I'm going to strive to emulate them. But I see very little in the way of condescension towards others in the way that they live their lives. I see a whole lot of work ethic. And I see an amazing amount of love--the kind of love that absolutely embodies the JOY principle of Jesus, Others, Self.
It's refreshing, honestly.
And convicting. Last night, as I was reading a section of "20 and Counting," I found a passage relating the story of how the Duggars had come to have a vehicle large enough to transport their entire family. I'll be honest and admit that my assumption involved the kind folks at TLC financing something for them. According to the book, however, they bought a wrecked bus for under $3,000. Then, they bought another, even more demolished bus for far less. And, as a family, they pieced them together. In the end, they have a large, serviceable vehicle that meets their needs ... for under $3,500. Which they say they paid in cash, by the way.
I'll be real and admit that I could not do that. First and foremost, neither Mr. Blandings nor myself has the kinds of skill that a project of that magnitude requires. But beyond that ... I'm just not that patient. I know I wouldn't wait for the right price at the right time if I was having to dole my family into two or three different vehicles just to get everyone to church on Sunday morning. Nope. I'd be the woman asking myself why on earth Jesus would mind if we just took out one, itty-bitty car loan, just this once? I'd be the one looking for loopholes in my previous conviction. I'd be the one whining my way through the wait.
But I'd rather be the "be content with what you have, for the Lord has said, never will I leave you nor forsake you" kind of gal. I'd rather be patient. I'd rather be ...
Well, like a Duggar, I guess.
So if nothing else, this is what I've learned from my phase of putting the Duggars under my curious microscope: Examples of faith come in the most unlikely of places. Maybe even on reality t.v. shows.
Friday, November 6, 2009
We'll call this Advanced Meal Planning 201.
At this point, you've already got your master list, and you've completed at least one menu. Your feet are wet, and you want more.
Happy to comply. :-)
My personal favorite part of meal planning is that it frees me to do only the parts of planning that I enjoy. I actually love to cook. Having a plan in place allows me to indulge in my passion for cooking knowing that the ingredients I need are on hand and there's variation already built in (chicken three nights in a row? Ugh!). Plus, I can spend the bulk of my day just doing whatever I'm doing, without pondering what I'll need to pull out of the freezer or whether I'm running out of time to whip something together to put on the table. This is a win-win: a little investment of time spent in the planning stages has paid off in literally years of hassle-free meal plans at my fingertips.
Now that you've got a meal plan in place, you're about to see what I mean.
If you have two weeks worth of meals laid out right now, you've got a leg up. But in order to really reap the benefits of meal planning, you're going to need to log a few hours in the kitchen. Why? Because you're going to want to have a solid base of meals to draw from; while your family isn't going to mind some things on repeat (most people can hand spaghetti, pizza and tacos twice in a month, for instance), you don't want to cause burn-out. So, I hereby give you license to do something crazy: go on a meal hunt. YES--keep that two week plan in place, and work like crazy to jot new things on your list as they pop into your head. Maybe you've forgotten about Aunt Linda's favorite pork chop bake until just now. Go ahead and add it to your list. But keep looking, too. Add as many things to your list as you can by trying out new recipes. Hit your favorite blogs, haunt allrecipes.com, whatever you have to do to get that number of meals up.
It's fun stuff, actually. No doubt they'll be some absolute misfires. But who knows what kind of new favorite you're likely to stumble on? Get out there and explore!
For the next step, I'm assuming that you have at least 35 separate meals listed. Using the same random assigning process that you used back in your original plan, go ahead and sprinkle a couple of empty slots in over the course of the month. You decide how many--personally, I use one every two weeks. And what do I do with this vacant box? Fun, ladies. :-) This is my Try a New Recipe Night. Keeping that little spot open allows me to plug in something that's caught my eye, whether I've torn it from a magazine or spotted it on the Internet. It also keeps me from feeling like I'm in a rut, and gives my kids the opportunity to try new flavors and textures. Call me crazy, but this little injection of flexible creativity does so much to keep the joy in cooking for me.
You can, of course, bypass the Try a New Recipe Night altogether. Your choice. But can I give you a gentle nudge in that direction, anyway? Not only am I partial to experimenting in the kitchen, but I can't tell you how many of those once-new meals have since become standards on our menus. This is the key to how our menus have grown over the years. While I started out with those 40-odd meals a while back, I now have a rotation of nearly 70 meals at this point. That's 70 nights, automatically planned out for me. No worry, no stress. Just another menu created, stored in my computer, and pulled out when I'm in the mood for what I see.
Another advanced step in menu planning involves cuing in to the seasons. One of our favorite warm-weather dishes is broiled, sliced chicken breast over a bed of spinach and raspberry vinaigrette. One of our favorite winter warm-ups is my grandmother's chicken and dumplings. Obviously, the two shouldn't pop up on the same week. By sorting through and creating separate menu files on my computer, I've been able to rotate seasons as easily as I rotate weeks. I even have a Thanksgiving time menu; I've already scheduled in our family's favorite meals using various leftovers ... why create that from scratch every year?
Alright, one last thing on meal planning: when you get to the point when you are fairly well-established in your actual menus, make the jump to creating a grocery list to go along with them. This is by no means essential, but it's just another of those little touches that allow you to save time. A base list, outlining all of the ingredients you need for a set menu, is easy to set up as a word file, and alter as needed. Have a whole pantry full of dried black beans? Strike them off the list. It's a whole lot easier than realizing at the last moment that you needed 2 tablespoons of orange juice concentrate for a dish ... and you forgot to pick it up.
My menus and lists are labeled in a similar manner (ie, FallMenu3 goes with FallList3) and placed in their own folders, which are ultimately inside a main folder I've labeled MEALS. (Creative, aren't I?) I've been using this overall method for over a decade now--since very early in my marriage, in fact. I'm convinced that it makes my life--and homeschooling--much easier. Hopefully, it will do the same for you!
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Update #1--Nepal. "So, how are your plans coming?" Thanks for asking! They're going quite well, actually. Together, Mr. Blandings and I recently gave our nonprofit board and our pastor our estimated monthly expenditures. I used my handy-dandy Mac to whip up not one, but two quite posh-looking videos that outline our service goals in the area. We're working on an informational packet to send out to interested individuals and churches. And God has worked wonders; we already have a very nice portion of our support pledged ...all without asking anyone for a dime. Nice touch, Lord!
Our target date for the actual move to Kathmandu is September or October of 2010. Prior to that, we'll be traveling cross-country for several weeks, visiting with family members who haven't seen us in years and making presentations to anyone (churches, Bible study groups, missions boards, homeschool groups, etc.) who have an interest in learning about Nepal and the work being done there. We're looking forward to the traveling, since it will be a greatly-expanded version of the adventure that brought us to WA seven years ago. I'm doing the bulk of the leg-work, so I get to squeeze in all the little spots we're dying to see as well as all the people we want to lay eyes on before we move into the next, thrilling adventure that God has planned for us.
Update #2--Bee's visa. "When are you thinking she'll get here?" That's a good one. We just don't know. A major snag has been hit in terms of securing a passport for Bee; her birthdate is glaringly incorrect on all of her official paperwork. We're talking the kind of error that puts the folks down at Homeland Security on major alert. So until that error can be corrected, we're in a holding pattern. We had hoped that she'd be with us for the holidays, but it's clear to us now that it just won't happen without God picking up Mt. Everest and dropping it in, say, WA state. Which He could do. We're not doubting that. But we're thinking February at the earliest, anyhow.
Update #3--Oli's adoption. "Is he yours yet?" Oliver's paperwork was postponed in its transition from the regular social worker's office to the adoption worker's office. This delay was caused by our beloved Georgie, who has yet to actually file, process, or do anything according to the time frame set forth by the federal government. I don't know how she manages it, actually. It's her super power or something.
So here it is November, and his adoption should have been finished in just four or five more weeks. But it won't be. We're looking at February at the earliest. Again.
Update #4--Mani's adoption. "Did his birthmom relinquish or what?" No, Manolin's birthmom has not relinquished. Choosing to stay firmly in what is becoming the familiar territory of foster care, in which the birthparents deny their inability to parent no matter what their circumstances, Mani's biomom is contesting the termination. From prison. With a ten year no contact order in place.
Termination trial is scheduled for ... wait for it ... February.
But you already knew that, right? :-)
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Nah, this one's not about meals, so you can relax.
This post is about homemade Christmas presents. You know--the things you mean to carefully craft in love each fall, then deliver to your friends and family during the holidays? The things you might even get all the way to the "buying supplies" stage before the intentions labeled "best" run out?
Am I only talking about myself here? Please, someone pipe in and tell me that I'm not alone.
Gifts are not my love language. Mr. Blandings joked one day that they're not even my love accent. He really wasn't trying to hurt my feelings, but it did sting a little. As much as I know that I'm a bad gifter, I also know that some people are really, really good at it. And me? Not so much.
I'd love to be able to blame my mom for my lack of giftiness. My mom is the Poster Girl for all things GIFT. She gives, and gives, and gives--often well beyond her means, and always with as much flair and style as possible. All of her gifts are always presented with stunning bows (handmade) atop impeccable, themed paper (not handmade, but hey, everyone's got their weakness). And--like a good portion of my mother's wardrobe--glitter is usually a feature.
Glitter is absolutely not a feature in my life. Not in my clothes (which generally fall into three colors: white, brown, and black), and not in the gifts I give to others. As a matter of fact, my mainstay gift is time. You know--"Let's go to dinner!" "I'd love to celebrate with you over coffee!" and, of course, "How about I watch your kids for you so you can do something fun?" When time fails, there's always cookies. My chocolate chip cookies have covered a multitude of gifting sins, I can tell you.
My mother would be horrified if she knew that Mr. Blandings is actually responsible for the bulk of the gifting done by the Blandings clan. She'd also choke on her dentures if she knew that I save all those fancy ribbon tricks she taught me for times when I can't find a gift bag or wrapping paper with an actual pattern on it. Yes, truth time--I buy solid colored wrapping paper in neutral colors most of the time. Why? Because it's never inappropriate. Blue is perfectly acceptable for a birthday, a new baby, Father's Day, you name it.
I'm just practical. Or this is what I tell myself.
But this year, I'm trying really, really hard to think ahead and follow through on all of those great homemade gift ideas that I see floating around on blogs and crafty websites. The main reason for this is that I think my older kids would enjoy it. They love making things for others, and are at the age where they can turn out some very nice-looking stuff. The second reason is that finances at Casa Blandings are super-tight. Mr. Blandings is waiting on word of his second pay-cut for this year, which will quickly be followed by another one right after the new year. Add to that the fact that we're saving money for Bee's visa applications, passports for the other five kids, plane tickets to Kathmandu in February, and yes ... a homemade Christmas sounds just about right!
We have a relatively short list of folks that we give to at Christmas time. usually, the list is even shorter than we'd like it to be simply because we don't have the funds to send anything to the people we love but don't see. I want to remedy that this year. And I also want to use the gifts that we do give to really demonstrate how much love we have for those in our lives. The truth is, part of what makes me not-so-gifty is that it always feels so impersonal to me. I know that this sounds nuts, but deciding between the UNO game and the Bowling Dice tin in the toy aisle of my local supermarket just doesn't give me warm fuzzies.
But making something? Yeah, that does it for me. Putting my hands in wool and turning out a scarf allows me the joy of praying for the recipient with each stitch that rolls of the needles. Selecting fabric and putting together a simple apron gives me the glow of thinking over that person and her impact on my life. But I rarely do these things. Why? I have no idea.
So that's what I want to capture this Christmas, for myself and for my children. The spirit of giving. Who knows? Maybe I'll even post the processes as they take place at my kitchen table over the next few weeks. Until then, here are some of the best ideas I've gleaned from the internet for giftmaking with kids. Many can be done by the kids themselves. Others may require a good bit of mom-work, then the kids can add the finishing details. I'm planning on trying some of them, so if you're likely to be on my gifting list, WARNING! Spoiler alert!
And if not ... happy homemade shopping. :-)
Adorable elastic bookmarks
Button wreath ornaments
Grocery Bag Dispenser
Sculpey Ribbon Ornaments
No-Sew fleece knot pillow
Gifts in a Jar
Beaded Icicle Ornaments
Pumpkin Pie Playdough (o.k., maybe a Thanksgiving gift?)
Birthday Banner (what mom doesn't want one of these?)
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Next step in making a meal plan that will work for you is filling in the blanks. Yep--it's really that easy.
There is a small part here that requires knowing yourself. Are you more of a straight list person, or someone who likes a day-by-day calendar format? Both will work just fine in the long run, but you'll help yourself along in the process of getting used to the whole mindset if you pick the format that makes the most sense to your brain. Then, decide how many blanks you want to fill in. A week? Two? A whole month? There are a lot of variables that lead people to pick a certain schedule. A dear friend of mine does a month at a time because her husband is paid on a monthly basis, so she does all of the "big" shopping just once every four weeks. I go with a two-week schedule for the same reason--Mr. Blandings' payday rolls around twice a month, so that's what we work around.
One of my menus:
Because I am addicted to my Mac, I have cute little menus designed for my 14 days. There is no magic to these menus, though--a plain text file will do just as well. I give each day a heading, and alongside that I include our evening plans, if any. This is a very, very important step--if you skip it, you may find yourself lined up to make lasagna on the same night you're heading out the door at 6 p.m. to get one of your children to violin practice, or find that a stew was supposed to have been simmering for a full two hours while you were at your Bible Study. This is a recipe for stress, and stress is not what meal planning is about! It's supposed to be the antidote to stress ... so take a minute to note the recurring activities that pop up in your life. Plan accordingly.
(We'll work on customizing menus with non-recurring events in our next session.)
Now that you've outlined the when, it's time to throw in the what. Simply start dropping meals in on days. Don't think too hard about it unless for some reason you have a strict aversion to the idea of a tuna casserole on a Monday. Some people have certain meals on certain nights (ie, Sunday is always spaghetti night). Go ahead and make those accommodations, but otherwise, willy nilly is really, truly fine.
Have more meals than slots? Good for you! You are now in the realm of the rotating menus. Here's how it works:
You decided to do a two week menu. But you have 24 meals. You've filled in 14 blanks, and you have ten meals left over. Create a NEW 14 week sheet, and randomly toss your four favorite meals onto that new schedule. Fill in around them with the meals you haven't written down yet. Voila! You now have an entire month's worth of meals planned. Simply use one, then the other, then go back to the first ...
And these, essentially, is it. The very basic meal planning technique. There are, of course, more advanced tools ... and we'll get to those on Friday. That ought to give you plenty of time to have a couple of menus under your belt. :-)
Monday, November 2, 2009
The thing about homeschooling is that, ideally, you do it at home. Which means that you (and your children) are dirtying the floors, adding to the laundry, using dishes, and generally cluttering your house all day. Pretty much every day.
It can be a real drag.
Sure, there are seasons where mom feels all Holly Hobbie and keeping things tidy is just Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!
Had I not experienced these odd, cozy stirrings myself, I'd swear they didn't exist. But they do. There really are times when nothing satisfies the soul quite as much as a stack of freshly laundered cloth diapers and the scent of Pine-Sol on the floors.
Of course, the rest of the time, we're all just trying to keep our heads above water. By necessity, school comes first. There will always be dirty dishes ... but the times when your 7 year-old longs to feel your arm around his shoulder while you re-read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ... sacred stuff, that.
To that end, I try to be (semi)organized in my housekeeping duties. This frees me up for my first love: educating my kids. I have a schedule for doing household tasks, the kids have a chore routine and, all things being equal, we keep the place in decent shape. I subscribe fully (and enthusiastically) to the "many hands make light work" concept, so any given day might find Atticus corralling all of the little one's board books back into the proper basket, Logan dragging the trash to the curb, Oliver and Manolin taking turns helping me load the clothes dryer, and Jo browning ground turkey at the stove.
Now, even with all of this "all for one, one for all," planned-out full-court press, no one has ever walked into my house and declared, "You homeschool? Why--this place is so spotless, I never would have known! How do you do it?"
You know what gets people's attention? No joke--it's my meal plan.
Of all things, people really dig my meal plan. Whether they've heard me mention it or have spotted a two week-menu on my fridge, people ask a lot of questions about my meal plan. So you know what? I'm going to post about it here. And that way, the next time someone wants to know more, I can just give them my blog's address. How's that for killing two birds with one stone?:-)
So here it goes. My big secret to meal planning, shared for those who want to embark on the journey to organized meal planning. Ready?
I started with a master list of meals that my family loves, loves, loves. I literally pulled out a sheet of notebook paper and a pencil, and started jotting down meals as they came to mind. Just entrees, mainly. A nice, long numbered list that I added to over the course of several days. Whenever I had an idea spring into my mind, I'd jot it down. When I had the chance to flip through some of my favorite cookbooks, I'd write down our favorites from them, too.
Then, I culled the list. There were a couple that, for one reason or the other, just didn't stay on the main list. A couple were so heavily "dairy-ed" that they had to be removed for the sake of our dairy-free eaters. A few others were just too pricey when adjusted to serve a crowd rather than a small-ish family. (We have a strict grocery budget.) And others were just not universally loved enough to crop up in a regular rotation. (They went onto a separate list that I'll mention in another post.)
In the end, my Master List has 46 meals. I'll share my list (with a few recipe links) here to give you an idea of what I'm talking about in case you're ready to start compiling your own:
Mary Grace's Master Meal List
- Bean Pilaf
- Three Bean Stew
- Turkey Meatloaf
- Corn Flake Chicken
- Chicken and Noodles
- Potato & Carrot Stew
- Chicken and Dumplings
- Pot Roast
- Taco Soup
- Swedish Meatballs
- Black Bean Tortilla Stack-ups
- Arroz con Pollo
- Fried Rice
- Stir Fry
- Orzo and Chick Peas
- Turkey Casserole
- Chicken & stuffing casserole
- Homemade Pizza
- Black Beans and rice
- Lentil Soup
- Black Bean Burritos
- Kidney Bean & Macaroni Casserole
- Chili over Spaghetti
- White Chicken Chili
- Roast Chicken
- Chicken-fried chicken
- Chili-Spaghetti Casserole
- Grilled Salmon
- Salmon patties
- Mexican Veggie Pasta Bake
- Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Open-Faced Turkey Sandwiches
- Lentils and rice
- Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
- Turkey Stroganoff
- Tuna Casserole
- Fried Fish (tuna, cod, whatever)
- Broccoli & baked potatoes with cheese
- Chili Dogs
- Boca burgers
- Sloppy Joes